It's been an absolutely pathetic year for USA athletics.

The days of dream teams, gold medals and athletic supremacy are gone, replaced by embarrassing defeats against inferior opponents.

In basketball, Team USA has not won the gold medal since 2000. Last month at the FIBA World Championships, it again saw what is wrong with its game.

The supposed Dream Team game looks like an And 1 mix tape when it gets together, as pick-and-rolls and team defense have been replaced with three-pointers and isolation plays. This style of play can only take you so far, and in the semifinals Greece played the international game to perfection, sending USA home with their tail between their legs.

Then there's baseball — America's so-called "pastime."

At the World Baseball Classic in March, Team USA fell flat on its face after being deemed one of the most talented squads in the tournament. The likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Derrek Lee and Alex Rodriguez couldn't even get to the championship game.

It isn't much better on ice, either. In the Winter Olympics, the U.S. hockey team won one game, and it was against Kazakhstan — a "real" powerhouse when it comes to pucks. Other highlights from Torino included a 3-3 tie against Latvia and a 2-1 loss to Slovakia. Now I know hockey isn't America's game, but it's not like they lost to Canada. They didn't even make it to the medal round.

How about Landon Donovan and the "fifth-ranked" USA soccer team? After all the hype surrounding the red, white and blue before the World Cup, Team USA (0-1-2) was once again embarrassed on the national stage, scoring just two goals in three games. Lowlights included a 3-0 throttling against the Czechs and a 2-1 loss to Ghana.

Each of this year's disappointments begs the question, "Why does America suck in international competition?"

Well, the obvious answer is that while we Americans are content with our level of play, other countries around the world are working harder to get better every year.

In the States, athletes simply don't care about international competition. They know that regardless of what happens, their millions of dollars are still waiting for them in their respective professional leagues — not including the MLS, of course; America just plain stinks at soccer.

Also, many U.S. athletes are scared of getting hurt and therefore half-ass their efforts to prevent injuries.

Then, of course, there are the players who are too good to represent their country. Why didn't Shaquille O'Neal or Ben Wallace take their standing invitations up to play on this year's basketball team?

Or how about Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield, who reportedly said he didn't want any part of the "made-up" tournament prior to this year's World Baseball Classic.

But don't pack your bags yet, my fellow countrymen, because we still have a sport where international competition means everything. I know golf may not be everyone's favorite sport, but nevertheless the golfers on PGA tour represent their country well every time they take a swing.

Golf is filled with players from all over the world, and on the televised scoreboards they even have little flags next to their names. If that isn't patriotism, then I don't know what is.

This weekend, Tiger Woods and company will try to salvage what's left the United States' athletic pride when the Americans take on the Europeans in the Ryder Cup at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland.

Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and a slew of rookies will take on a European squad featuring José Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia — a threesome that holds three of the four best Ryder Cup winning percentages in the history of the European team.

USA will be playing the underdog role for the first time in years, and considering what has transpired this past year, that can only help their chances.

The Europeans are always ranked lower and come off as statistically inferior when compared to the Americans, but in recent years they have relished the underdog role. With so much recent success in the event, the Europeans can't help but be overconfident while Team USA comes to Ireland with a nothing-to-lose mentality. The Americans will be aggressive with their shot selection and it should pay off.

Nevertheless, if the Americans hope to bring the Cup back to where it belongs, they will undoubtedly need a strong performance from the best player in the world —- and I am confident they will get it.

Everyone knows Woods is one of the fiercest competitors in the world and he will definitely be looking to silence his critics. The Americans are 1-3 in the four Ryder Cups Woods has participated in, and his individual record has been un-Tiger-like to say the least. For some time now, Woods has heard the reports that he doesn't care about the Ryder Cup, treating it like an exhibition tournament.

Also, Woods is not too happy with Dubliner magazine who published a nude photo of his wife, Elin, along with captions that say she has been "in a variety of sweaty poses on porn sites across the web." Woods' anger alone could lift the Americans to victory.

Regardless of all that, Tiger has been on a tear lately. Woods' bid to break the consecutive-tournament streak held by Byron Nelson came to an end last weekend at the World Match Play Championship after being unbeatable for nearly two months. Whatever the reason may be, Tiger is clicking on all cylinders right now, which is bad news for the Europeans.

Hopefully, this Sunday the United States can finally wave the flag with a feeling of pride for the first time all year. If not, we'll always have snowboarding — a sport we just made up anyway.

AndrewKluger is a junior majoring in journalism. You can contact him at [email protected]