Tiger is enthusiastic to play in team event

As he ascended to the throne in golf, the one competition Tiger Woods never embraced was the Ryder Cup. While many lesser players thrived in the team competition, Woods was mediocre, going 13-14-2.

With the greatest player of his generation showing little passion for the event, the U.S. team has played follow-the-leader, winning only one of the six Ryder Cups in which Woods competed. The decisive victory by the U.S. in 2008 at Valhalla was telling because it came in the absence of Woods after knee surgery.

Another telling feature of Woods' Ryder Cup record is the difference in his performance when paired with a teammate (9-13-1) and playing as an individual (4-1-1).

But with the 2012 Ryder Cup set to tee off Friday at Medinah Country Club in the suburbs of Chicago, there are indications that Woods is warming to the event. With his reputation damaged, his dominance challenged by Rory McIlroy, and his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' majors record stalled, there are reasons to believe Woods needs the Ryder Cup more than ever.

"It's different than playing by yourself," Woods told reporters on Tuesday. "It means so much more because it is our country, and it is our teammates, and we want to, in all these practice sessions, get to know each other and get our games right and be ready for the Ryder Cup week. It comes down to one moment."

Woods knows that one moment well. He experienced it in November in the Presidents Cup. After an injury-riddled 2011, he was a much-criticized captain's pick of Fred Couples. But in Australia, Woods found his game and some long-awaited camaraderie with his teammates. When he won the clinching point in his singles match against Aaron Baddeley, Woods appeared overwhelmed by the hugs and high-fives of his teammates.

"He's the greatest player of all time. As players we all really wanted him on the team," Webb Simpson said earlier this month. "I think that gave him confidence to keep moving forward and playing better."

With three PGA Tour wins this year, Woods qualified for the team with ease. Now it is up to him to take on the leadership role he has never sought. He was asked on Tuesday how he felt being on teams that lost so many times to Europe.

"Certainly I am responsible for that because I didn't earn the points that I was put out there for," Woods said. "I needed to go get my points for my team, and I didn't do that. Hopefully I can do that this week, and hopefully the other guys can do the same and we can get this thing rolling."

In this year's Ryder Cup, Woods appears intent on trying to change his image as a disinterested teammate, described humorously by writer Alan Shipnuck in a roundtable discussion in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated.

"The Ryder Cup is like a party, and Tiger is the hottest girl in the room, staring at his fingernails and twirling his hair," Shipnuck said. "He's not dancing on the bar. He sets the tone for the whole thing, and he's kind of a buzzkill."

One thing could change the buzz -- a U.S. victory in Chicago with Woods leading the charge.