MEDINAH, Ill. -- No other trio of American golfers has qualified for more consecutive Ryder Cup teams than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk. Collectively, they have won 146 official tournaments around the world, including 19 majors.
That only makes their Ryder Cup record look all the more inferior.
They have been the core of the U.S. team since 1997 at Valderrama, where they combined for a 3-6-1 record as the United States lost the cup. Perhaps it was a sign of what was to come. For all their individual achievement, none has a winning record in the Ryder Cup. They have been on six teams together -- Woods missed in 2008 at Valhalla while recovering from knee surgery -- and the only celebration they shared was that remarkable comeback at Brookline.
"I would have expected and definitely wished for a much better record than that," Furyk said Tuesday.
It leads to a question that brings to mind the chicken and the egg.
Do they all have losing records because they are playing on losing teams? Or does the U.S keep losing because this triumvirate has losing records?
"I think it's both," Woods said Tuesday. "In order to win cups, you have to earn points. And we certainly have not earned points. And on top of that, Phil, Jim and myself have been put out there a lot during those years. So if we're not earning points, it's hard to win Ryder Cups that way."
So much has been expected. So little has been delivered. And they are running out of time to leave a lasting impression.
Furyk is 42 and has gone four of the last five PGA Tour seasons without winning, though the exception was in 2010 when he won three times and was voted player of the year. Even so, he had to rely on being a captain's pick for the first time. Mickelson, also 42, has qualified for nine straight teams dating to 1995. He will set an American record for most Ryder Cups when the matches began Friday. Even so, he narrowly qualified for the team this year.
They will be leaned on heavily again at Medinah as the U.S. tries to win back the cup.
They Americans, dressed in navy blue shirts, headed out for the first full day of practice under warm sunshine in the Chicago suburbs. They played fourball matches among the three groups, which was evident when Bubba Watson and his pink-shafted driver drove through a dogleg on the 440-yard 11th hole and over the gallery's head. He still played that shot (and they won the hole).
U.S. captain Davis Love III finally showed his hand -- and confirmed some obvious pairings in mind -- by sending out Woods and Steve Stricker, Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, Watson and Webb Simpson. Other pairings were Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, and Furyk and Brandt Snedeker.
There were few surprises on the European side.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal had Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in one group; Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Paul Lawrie in another; and Mark Kaymer, Nicolas Colsaerts, Francesco Molinari and Peter Hanson in a third.
Furyk referred to McIlroy as a "marked man" last week, and not many could argue. The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland already is a two-time major champion, with both wins by eight shots. He has established himself as No. 1 in the world without debate, and has won three of his last six tournaments against the strongest field.
For so many years, Woods was that guy on the U.S. team, and that's why his record gets so much attention.
"I kind of liken it to playing premiership football, the biggest teams, the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools, the Chelseas, the Arsenals," McDowell said. "Any lesser team that comes to play these guys, they have a tendency to raise their game because it's a huge game for an underdog to play a Tiger Woods. And they get up for it. They are not expected to win. When expectation levels drop, game tends to improve. I think a guy who plays Tiger Woods, or a player of that calibre, he doesn't expect to win, so he lets it all go and he plays out of his skin and gets the upset."
Woods, despite his 86 wins and 14 majors, has never had a winning record in the Ryder Cup. He has combined to go 6-3-0 in his last two events to raise his career record to 13-14-2. Even at the height of his game, Europe would say that he could only win five points out of the 28 points up for grabs.
Woods never came close to that, which helps explain why Europe has won six of the seven Ryder Cups in which he played.
"Certainly, I am responsible for that because I didn't earn the points that I was put out there for," Woods said. "And that's part of being a team. 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."
Mickelson began his Ryder Cup career in 1995 at Oak Hill, where he went 3-0 and privately burned that he wasn't used more often. That turned out to be the most points Mickelson contributed in a week.
Their contributions are so noticeable that Mickelson and Furyk are tied for losing the most fourball matches (eight) among American players. Furyk is 1-8-1 in fourballs, though there are pleasant Ryder Cup memories. He took down Nick Faldo in his debut at Valderrama, and it was his big win over Sergio Garcia at The Country Club in 1999 that was critical in the great American comeback.
None of this bothers Love, who played on only two winning teams and had a 9-12-5 record.
"Match play is just so different," he said. "I kind of throw the Jim Furyk or the Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods record of wins and losses out. ... There's a reason why these guys keep making teams, and I don't look a whole lot at the record."
That speaks to what they have done in their careers. They qualified for six straight teams from 1997 through 2008 (Woods would have led the Ryder Cup standings except for being injured). Woods was a captain's pick only once, in 2010. Mickelson has never been picked.
They have shown themselves as America's best over the last 15 years. Trouble is, Europe keeps going home with the trophy.