COLDFIELD, England - There is a pingpong table set up for the amusement of the Ryder Cup players in the U.S. team room at The Belfry, and Tiger Woods was asked about it yesterday.
Pop, pop, pop, he got three quick questions. "So, Tiger, did you play pingpong last night? How good are you? And who did you beat?"
Woods tugged on the bill of his cap before answering.
"Yes, I played. I'm all right. I beat a few people."
Thank you very much, you've been a great audience, please drive home carefully.
For Woods, it was an attempt at humor and it went over well, but there isn't any pingpong tournament going on this week. The fact is, Woods' record in the Ryder Cup is no laughing matter.
And here is the punch line: The best player in the world has a losing record.
"If you play poorly, no matter whether you're in a team event or individual, you're going to get your butt beat, it's as simple as that," Woods said. "I've played poorly and I've played well and I've lost both ways. In either case, you chalk it up and move on."
Moving on quickly, Woods is 3-6-1 in the Ryder Cup and the three quick answers are, yes, he's played; he's played all right; and he's beaten very few people.
How this has occurred is a mystery as puzzling as why there is bacon on nearly every sandwich in this country.
Mark Calcavecchia, who is probably going to be paired with Woods when the matches begin Friday, cannot explain it.
"That's a mystery to me also," Calcavecchia said. "I'm 0-4 in best ball and 4-0 in alternate shot and you wouldn't think that would be the case, either.
"Obviously, guys get all jacked up to play Tiger because they know they've got to play great to beat him. And on occasion, that happens. A few other occasions, maybe Tiger wasn't at his best.
"You certainly wouldn't think that, but he may go 5-0 this week and all of a sudden be 8-6-1."
That's certainly how the U.S. team would like it to add up by Sunday afternoon, because it probably would mean the Americans getting out of town with their hands still on the cup.
Woods was 1-3-1 in his first Ryder Cup play at Valderrama in Spain in 1997, his first full year as a professional. He won his first match, period. Woods was paired with Mark O'Meara and they beat Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer, 3 and 2, in best ball.
They lost to the same pair in the alternate-shot format, 5 and 3. Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood beat Woods-O'Meara in alternate shot too, but Woods and Justin Leonard halved their match with Jesper Parnevik and Ignacio Garrido.
In his singles match against Costantino Rocca, Woods was trounced, 4 and 2, and it was a point the U.S. could have used. Instead, Europe won, 14 1/2 -13 1/2 . Down by 4 1/2 points, the U.S. outscored Europe, 8-4, in the singles, but fell one point short.
It also should be noted that in the 1997 matches, Leonard and Davis Love combined for a total of one point, two halves by Leonard, the British Open champion. Love, the PGA champion, was 0-4.
Love remembers the feeling.
"I didn't get a point," he said. "I can't tell you the matches I've won. I can tell you all the ones I've lost. And it really wears on you."
Woods did get two points in the last Ryder Cup, at Brookline, Mass., in 1999. He and Tom Lehman lost to Sergio Garcia and Parnevik, 2 and 1, in alternate shot, then he and David Duval lost to Darren Clarke and Westwood, 1-up.
Woods and Steve Pate split their matches the next day, defeating Padraig Harrington and Miguel Angel Jimenez, but losing to Paul Lawrie and Montgomerie. And with the U.S. trailing again after two days, 10-6, Woods did his part in the U.S. rout on Sunday, defeating Andrew Coltart, 3 and 2.
The U.S. won, 14 1/2 -13 1/2 , winning eight of the 12 singles matches and halving another.
Woods doesn't have to be reminded of how he has played in the Ryder Cup.
"I wish it was better," he said. "That means I would have contributed more points to my team, but I haven't done that."
Woods hasn't experienced the same problem in his usual work mode, the individual, stroke-play event. He's played 15 tournaments this year and won five, 33 percent.
In the Ryder Cup, his winning percentage - for points in matches - is only slightly higher, 35 percent.
There seems to be plenty of time left for Woods to work on the grading curve. Jack Nicklaus played in six Ryder Cups and left with a 17-8-3 record. Arnold Palmer played in six and was 22-8-2. Hale Irwin was 13-5-2 in five appearances and Tom Watson was 10-4-1 in four.
If major championship winners such as Nicklaus, Palmer, Irwin and Watson also made their marks in the Ryder Cup, it's probably going to happen with Woods too. Clearly, the expectations are there. This week, he has another opportunity to show what the game's greatest player can do on one of its greatest stages.
Thomas Bonk is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.