ATLANTA • The first blow of the phoney war which always precedes the Ryder Cup has been landed by English golfer Lee Westwood, who has pointed towards the potentially "adverse" influence of Tiger Woods as a vice-captain of the United States team.
Woods has endured an infamously troublesome time as a Ryder Cup player but, as he is injured this time, the US captain Davis Love III asked him to become a member of the backroom staff.
Westwood, 43, will play in his 10th Ryder Cup at Hazeltine next week, with Europe seeking an unprecedented fourth win in a row.
"I don't know what impact there will be from having Tiger around," Westwood told ESPN.com.
"They have always struggled to find a partner for Tiger who's been successful. He could have an adverse effect in the team room.
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People have always seemed to try to do too much when they have partnered him. It might be different if he's one of the vice-captains, you don't know.
LEE WESTWOOD, on Tiger Woods being a vice-captain of the United States Ryder Cup team.
"People have always seemed to try to do too much when they have partnered him. It might be different if he's one of the vice-captains, you don't know."
Westwood also referred to Love's captaincy in 2012 at Medinah and the handling of his wild card picks this time as being potentially significant.
Four years ago, Europe triumphed in memorable style as the hosts capitulated during the singles matches.
"I don't know if something went wrong on the Sunday or the team didn't play very well for some reason, but that will be in the back of their minds," the Englishman said.
Westwood was similarly questioning of Love's decision, thus far, not to pick Bubba Watson.
The US captain has one wild card remaining, with Watson seemingly battling against Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger for the spot.
"There seems to have been issues about team spirit and chemistry. Love has not picked Bubba Watson and I don't know what that does for team spirit. He was first outside the points qualification and is No. 7 in the world," said Westwood.
In further problems for Love, world No. 2 Dustin Johnson said on Wednesday that he does not want to partner US team-mate Phil Mickelson, a five-time Major champion, at the Ryder Cup.
"I think I can partner pretty well with pretty much anyone, except for Phil," said Johnson on the eve of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
"Me and Phil don't partner well together."
The US Open champion made it clear he has no personal issue with Mickelson, with whom he regularly plays practice rounds before tournaments, usually with a wager on the line.
"We play well against each other," said Johnson.
"I love Phil and we're great friends but we have a lot more fun when we're playing against each other than when we're partners."
Johnson's antipathy to partnering Mickelson dates back to the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, where the two were paired for the opening day foursomes and fourballs. They lost both matches 3&2.
Life would also become uncomfortable for Europe's captain, Darren Clarke, should Paul Casey win the FedExCup on Sunday.
It remains an anomaly that a player ranked No. 15 in the world cannot feature at Hazeltine because he chooses not to join the European Tour.
Should Casey bank more than US$11 million (S$14.9 million) by winning the Tour Championship and FedExCup at East Lake this weekend, talk of alterations to Ryder Cup qualification criteria would be inevitable.
"The reason for not continuing to take up my (European) membership is a family reason and a quality-of-life reason," said Casey.
"If there are rule changes because of something I've done, it was certainly not any intention of mine."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS