SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- Tiger Woods had a million reasons why he wanted to win the World Golf Championship. He came up with another one to explain why he caused such a fuss.
''I was just trying to be funny,'' Woods said Tuesday, backing off his comments last week in Ireland when he earned $1 million for winning the American Express Championship. ''Obviously, things were taken way out of context.''
This week is no laughing matter.
The Americans again are favored to win the Ryder Cup, somewhat of a mystery since Europe has won five of the last eight times. Only once since 1983 have the matches been decided by more than two points.
The Ryder Cup has not been particularly kind to Woods, either.
One of the most glaring holes in an otherwise awesome record is his Ryder Cup mark. Woods is 3-6-1 in two Ryder Cups, splitting his singles matches and taking on five partners in eight team matches.
''I wish it was better,'' he said. ''That means I would have contributed more points to my team. But I haven't done that.''
He compared the Ryder Cup to the final round in a major -- even though he joked last week there were ''a million reasons why'' he would rather win the American Express Championship than the team competition.
''They're two completely different animals,'' Woods said. ''You're a lot more juiced on the first tee here than you are in a normal tour event, just because if you get off to a bad start you can lose a match. You get off to a bad start in a tournament, you can still win.''
Woods slipped into his Ryder Cup uniform -- blue shirt with thin red and white stripes, a white vest and gray cap -- for the first day of formal practice on a course only four players on the U.S. team have played.
He spent his first night at The Belfry playing pingpong, and had one spirited game against Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy.
Woods is the No. 1 golfer in the world and the man everyone tries to beat. At the Ryder Cup, he is just one of 12 players on a team.
''How would you feel if you had him on your team? Pretty good?'' Scott Verplank said. ''It's great. Last night we had a big team pingpong match, so we're all still very competitive, and we all still want to beat each other. But this week, we're all pulling for each other. And I think we're coming together nicely as a team.''
Woods won in Ireland by making 24 birdies and an eagle in 72 holes at Mount Juliet. Will he play as well at the Ryder Cup?
''I think anybody would be hard-pressed to say that man is not trying to win every time he puts a tee in the ground,'' Hal Sutton said. ''I think there's more reason for him to want to win the Ryder Cup and do well in it, because that's one of the few times he hasn't done as well. I'm pretty sure his juices will be flowing this week.''
The Ryder Cup was postponed a year because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Woods expects this to be just like his previous two experiences -- good golf, a winner and a loser, then back to regularly scheduled programming.
''It's not life or death,'' he said. ''This is an athletic event. Win or lose, we'll shake each other's hand and go have a beer.''
Still, there is a sense the Ryder Cup means more to Europe than the Americans, and even its captain, Sam Torrance, weighed in on Woods' ''million reasons'' comment in Ireland.
''I think we'd probably chip in and pay $1 million to win this week,'' Torrance said.
Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, one of Woods' best friends in golf, said he thought Europe rates the Ryder Cup much higher than their counterparts.
''This is where golf careers are made,'' Bjorn said.
Paul Azinger, perhaps the most spirited of the U.S. players when it comes to the Ryder Cup, said it ranked behind the four majors and that most of his teammates didn't start thinking about the matches until this week.
Now that the Ryder Cup is here, it's a different story.
''It's not nonchalance, believe me,'' Azinger said. ''We walked in the room last night and our players are into it. We're up for it. We want to play well.''
No one gets $1 million this week, just a 14-inch gold chalice that might mean as much.
Davis Love III asked that skeptics consider the Americans' reaction when they clinched the Ryder Cup at Brookline in 1999, the way they charged across the 17th green after Justin Leonard holed that 45-foot birdie putt.
''We're all passionate. We all want to win. We're all on the same page and we're going to be friends next week,'' Love said. ''But this week, we all want to be the winner. It's not like you finished eighth and made a decent check. It's either win or lose.
''Nobody wants to win more than our team.''
Add Woods to that list.
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