Vincent Hogan: Golf's big two won't always have Paris - but at least Rory can smile
Toiling Woods has nothing to offer team game as McIlroy celebrates despite putting woes
They gathered around Tiger as if the 17th green was a church gate and he'd soon be tossing clay on a loved-one's casket.
Europeans mostly, all exaggeratedly solemn. He rummaged in his bag for what seemed an eternity before accepting some courteous hands on the shoulder. Then a deep embrace from Rory McIlroy and some private words whispered close. Two Hall of Famers, their combined points total from the weekend two (both McIlroy's) out of a possible nine.
When they were done, Tiger broke into a run, pursued by his partner, Erica Herman. Headed for a golf buggy and escape from the throng.
Golf is, fundamentally, a game of me and he wasn't in the mood for anybody's piety now. McIlroy neither. He too broke into a trot in the way of someone with urgent business to attend to, disappearing back down the fairway, cries of "Rory, Rory, Rory" serenading him on his way.
Tiger's level par golf hadn't been enough to contain the young Spanish bull John Rahm, nor had Rory's one over been sufficient against Justin Thomas in the lead match.
We were still 40 minutes away from Phil Mickelson finding the water on 16 to confirm Francesco Molinari (five from five for the week) as the man whose point won the Ryder Cup, but golf's two biggest players were both running for the shadows.
And the bolted, grilled doors of Tiger's personality were firmly in place when he came with his team then to the losers' press conference.
His words slow and faintly laboured, he spoke like a man for whom the day had already run beyond his patience threshold.
Sitting slightly back from the dais, he seemed almost sleepy.
"Well we didn't execute like we had planned and wanted to," he said in little more than a murmur.
"For me personally, I went 0-4. Obviously very disappointing. Those are four points that aren't going to our side. To have a Ryder Cup end that way for me personally, it doesn't feel very good.
"I didn't help my team-mates earn any points."
Woods looked a husk of a man these last two days and, now, you could almost believe he'd been medicated in some way.
His comeback has been golf's story of the year, yet he was part of a group being pilloried here. A few places to his right, Jim Furyk faced hostile interrogation.
His four wild cards (Tiger among them) had taken two from a possible 12 points, the worst points' percentage of captain's picks in Ryder Cup history. And, in Tiger, Furyk had brought a ghost to Le Golf National. A ghost the public danced around like giddy courtiers.
Our relationship with Woods runs in spite of all we've learnt about him. Does it represent a suspension of certain faculties?
So much of what has been uncovered is consistently faithful to the photofit of a profoundly unlikeable sociopath, indifferent to the concepts of loyalty, empathy or - maybe above all - kindness. That chilling ability to cut people from his circle as if just pruning a plant. The fog around those visits to a Canadian doctor subsequently charged with unlawful distribution of Human Growth Hormone. The rampant infidelities. The staggering meanness.
Yet his public remains enthralled, love-struck even.
Some European fans audibly rooted for him these past three days in France, as if he represented a strange, parallel universe.
The defensive narrative in any sport may be that nobody's bigger than the game they play. Tiger demolishes that lie.
Without him contending, golf has had the feel of a Broadway show without the lead. A swindle almost. Golf is rich with solemn, mean-spirited men who are wizards with a club in their hands. It's got plenty of players with Cinderella back-stories, too.
And it's a game inclined to deal curiously with its dirty linen, tackling crisis-management with a PR brochure. Someone is described as 'taking a break' when the world knows that's just stiff-lipped vernacular for being sent away in sin.
But Tiger dwarfs it all. The TV ratings belittle any argument to the contrary.
Rory's personality has none of the serrated edges that set people on egg shells around Woods. If anything, there's a faintly closeted, even nerdish quality to McIlroy. He certainly never seems entirely convincing when taking the bait of loose words from a gallery, as he did on the third green in Saturday's foursomes.
The fugitive voice that provoked him was a shout of "Rory you can't putt!"
And he promptly sank a five footer for birdie, halving the hole, then turned around to challenge the offending mouth. But five minutes later? Rory's drive on four veered so far right of the fairway it, effectively, left the golf course, into trees in an adjoining field. His mind was in a tangle.
Now McIlroy isn't unique as a Hall of Famer who looks fragile with putter in hand. Ben Hogan, Harry Vardon and Henry Cotton all had bouts of crisis on the greens. But Rory's woes look to be becoming chronic now. After a hot start against Thomas, he missed from five feet on the sixth with an opportunity to go three up.
On 11 he missed from eight feet; on 14 from five feet again, on 15 from eight feet again; on 16 from 12 feet.
The opportunities kept presenting themselves and, continuously, that putter was in the freezer. In other words, the match shouldn't have gone as far as 18, where Thomas duly landed a 319 yard drive on to a ribbon of fairway no wider than the garden of a semi-detached.
Rory's? It found one of those malevolent bunkers down the right and, frankly, his fate was sealed.
He's been an enigma this season, playing a game that never seemed stitched together with much conviction, yet routinely contending. With better Sunday composure and - as that third green voice implied - a hotter putter, McIlroy would be a colossus in the world game.
Instead, he is just a face on a billboard.
Why? His game has stalled. He knows it, we know it.
For all the high fives and bear hugs as the shadows lengthened outside Paris yesterday, for all those choreographed Icelandic thunderclaps, he'd just followed another Sunday fade-out with a poor Ryder Cup. If that didn't leave him with a stone in his shoe, then he's in trouble.
Because, in golf, selfishness is the language of the gods.
The pleasure of playing in a team comes only from holding your end up. From withstanding the pressure.
Sure Rory said what he needed to say last night, lauding the "togetherness" of Thomas Bjorn's team, talking about the "continuity" in the group, "the camaraderie".
But he will know this wasn't the weekend that he wanted it to be. Which should hurt.
The invisible moat surrounding him continues to keep out even team-mates. He's played Ryder Cup with 14 different partners now, putting points on the board with only two.
He is the blinkered antithesis of a team player.
True, the timing of his first tournament win in five years could scarcely have been worse for Furyk. Because Tiger looked like a man who'd emptied himself in Atlanta. And he didn't deny it either.
"Yeah, I mean I played seven out of nine weeks because I qualified for Akron and you know all of those are big events, starting with the Open Championship," he told the assembled media.
"For me, it's been a lot of golf for a short period of time. I'll have a better understanding of what my training needs to be for next year, so that I certainly can endure the entire season. Because this year was very much up in the air of how much I would play, or if I would play at all."
Already doing then what men of his ilk must always do. Thinking about tomorrow, about building his legend even higher.
In the ultimate game of me.