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Despite rebound, Tiger loses twice

MEDINAH, Ill. -- The afternoon began ominously for Tiger Woods, whispers sounding like roars around Medinah Country Club with plenty saying out load that America's best player ought to take a seat on the bench.

Instead, there was Woods in the last match on the course early Friday evening. Seemingly every spectator surrounded the 18th hole as Woods lined up an 18-footer for birdie for an improbable tie against the one-man wrecking crew known as the Belgian Bomber, Nicolas Colsaerts.

Alas, his putt grazed the hole, an eighth birdie of the round denied, ending what was a frustrating day for Woods but an overall impressive one for the United States team.

The Americans lead 5-3, with two of the losses coming from the team of Woods and Steve Stricker. They were awful in a morning foursomes match against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, Woods hitting it all over the Chicago suburbs and causing many to wonder if U.S. captain Davis Love III would give him the afternoon off.

Love didn't, but will hold him out of Saturday morning play instead.

Woods will sit out the Saturday morning foursomes, the first time he will miss a Ryder Cup session since he made his debut in 1997. After two losses Friday, his overall record now stands at 13-16-2, putting him just one defeat behind the U.S. record of 17 set by Phil Mickelson -- who won both of his matches Friday.

Love made it about giving Woods a rest more than benching him for poor play.

"We just felt like we didn't want anybody to have to play five matches on this golf course," Love said. "It's a big, long golf course. It's tough. And exactly what we said was going to happen happened to one of our best teams. They played very well this afternoon, and just happened to get beat on the last hole."

Woods and Stricker were simply outplayed by Colsaerts, the only European team rookie, who made a tournament's worth of putts in one afternoon. Colsaerts carded eight birdies and an eagle and had but a lone bogey, the only time partner Lee Westwood was of any assistance.

"Quite frankly, he beat us by himself," Woods said as he walked toward the clubhouse amid the deafening chants of fans still enjoying themselves, at that point unaware that he would not play Saturday morning.

Woods and Stricker, who made two birdies in the afternoon four-ball match, would have won every other match in the afternoon session. But that is the essence of match play, and one that can distort the bottom line numbers.

"Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I've ever seen," Woods said. "We ran into a guy who made everything today. I don't know what he shot, he was like 7 under through 10. I quit counting after that."

For Europe, the match was crucial. After splitting the morning foursomes session 2-2, the Americans took hold in the afternoon four-ball (best ball), winning the first three matches by relatively easy margins and bidding to make a rare sweep of the session. Trailing by 5-3 in the Ryder Cup format is far different than 6-2, even if the number seems so little.

Standing in the way was Colsaerts, 29, who sat out the morning session and got the team's most experienced player as a partner, Westwood. No offense to Westwood, who has played in every Ryder Cup since 1997, but he was hardly needed.

Colsaerts made birdies at the second, fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth holes. Then he eagled the 10th and added birdies at the 13th, 15th and 17th -- the latter crucial as it meant keeping a 1-up lead heading to the 18th hole.

The 1-up victory got Europe it's only afternoon point.

The 30-footer Colsaerts made for birdie at the 17th -- with Woods waiting to make a 4-footer for birdie -- was particularly impressive, and resulted in a boisterous reaction that had him pointing to cheering Europeans in the crowd.

"You just can't predict those things," said Colsaerts, a two-time winner on the European Tour, who just three years ago was outside of the top 1,000 in the world rankings. "I told Lee when we got to the 18th tee that it was my first uncontrolled reaction, which I guess everybody witnessed. But yeah, this is what this tournament is about, when you make stuff like I did on 17. Everything comes out of your veins and eyes, and it's pretty special.''

Woods' veins were reacting in a different manner earlier in the day when he couldn't find a fairway. In the morning foursomes competition, Woods hit just two of seven fairways, one of which came after banging a tee shot into trees and seeing it spit back out near the fringe of the 15th green. That led to one of just three birdies in the alternate shot format. He also hit a spectator in the head at the seventh hole, bloodying the Chicago fan but getting a fortunate bounce that led to another birdie.

But there were enough wayward shots and puzzling play that plenty were wondering if Woods deserved to play.

Love quickly doused that talk, and had Stricker and Woods go back out in the better-ball format. They shot 9 under and were beat.

"I didn't play very good this morning at all," Woods said of the morning session that saw him and Stricker shoot over par in losing 2 and 1. "I was hitting it awful and not doing anything well. But I hit it good this afternoon. I drove it great this afternoon and was in position, but we ran into a guy who just made absolutely everything."

Woods said he consulted with his swing coach Sean Foley between the morning and afternoon rounds.

"I didn't hit it well at all warming up, and it just carried into my play in the morning session, but rectified it in the afternoon, but unfortunately it wasn't good enough," he said.

Now Woods will have a new role: that of cheerleader.