Newport: The United States Ryder Cup team arrived at Cardiff airport on Monday and even before being reunited with their baggage captain Corey Pavin was fielding his first questions about Tiger Woods.
The world number one but Ryder Cup wildcard wore sunglasses as he posed with his team mates on the aeroplane steps under skies the colour of Welsh slate.
Jim Furyk was alongside, an astonishing $11.35 million richer having won the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup on Sunday, but it was Woods who everyone wanted to talk about.
Woods has never appeared totally at home in the team format, collecting only 11 Ryder Cup points out of a possible 25, and his commitment is regularly questioned.
After his traumatic personal problems and a run of poor form, interest in his prospects was cranked up further on Sunday when European captain Colin Montgomerie said Woods would not be his first choice if he could have any American in his team.
Doing his best to calm the waters, Montgomerie rowed back during a brief airport news conference.
“I have always said that Tiger is the best player in the world and the best player in my opinion that has ever played the game and of course he’d be in my team,” the Scot said.
“A lot has been written about Tiger’s performances in the Ryder Cup. It’s just that it’s poorer than his individual record which is extreme.
“So we look forward to seeing how Tiger is going to be playing and who he is going to be playing with and seeing how we can counter that. At the same time we welcome him with open arms and I think that it’s great that he’s part of this team.”
Woods has played in all five matches at each of his five Ryder Cups but there has been speculation that he might not do so this time.
“I’ve obviously thought about it a lot and come Thursday we’ll see who the first pairings will be,” Pavin said. “I have a pretty good idea which direction I’d like to go and we’ll just have to wait for the matches to come along and see.
“Every time Tiger plays in the Ryder Cup he wants to win and so do 11 other players.
“All the guys want to come out and play their best golf and try to retain the trophy here. There’s not one player that’s different from another on the team.”
Rain delays in the final round of the Tour Championship in Atlanta had raised fears of a delayed arrival for the Americans -- and Europe’s second-place finisher Luke Donald -- but organisers were relieved the setback was only a couple of hours.
Official practice on the pristine Twenty Ten course, green and lush after a week of rain, begins on Tuesday. The weather forecast for later in the week is mixed, with little wind but a fair amount of rain expected. The bigger concern on the prodigiously hilly course, however, is fog.
“I am just looking forward to a really nice week and actually I think it’s going to be quite a relaxing week. I’m going to enjoy it and soak it all up,” said Pavin, seeking a first win in Europe for the Americans since 1993.
Montgomerie said he was expecting a very close contest.
“I think on this occasion it will come down to a Sunday putt,” he said.
“That’s the beauty of this Ryder Cup. I think these matches will be extremely tight, extremely close.”