McIlroy helps fans see new, lighter side to Tiger
Tiger Woods has long been renowned for his unwavering, almost robotic, focus on the golf course but fans have seen a much more relaxed side to his personality in tandem with Rory McIlroy at this week’s Barclays tournament.
Former world number one Woods and the man long regarded as his heir apparent, McIlroy, shared laughs and plenty of light-hearted banter after being grouped together for Thursday’s first round in the FedExCup playoff event at Farmingdale, New York.
Watched by huge galleries at Bethpage State Park, both golfers were clad almost entirely in black as Woods ended the day edging his young rival by a shot, his opening three-under-par 68 trumping McIlroy’s 69.
“He’s a nice kid, he really is,” 14-times major champion Woods told reporters about the Northern Irishman. “I played with him in Abu Dhabi. We struck up a friendship back then, and it’s continued. I think it’s only going to get better.”
The feeling is certainly mutual, and its ultra-relaxed nature was perfectly illustrated by McIlroy during his pre-tournament news conference on Wednesday while Woods was waiting in the wings for his turn to speak to the media.
Asked whether he would like to take on Woods in the last-day singles at next month’s Ryder Cup, world number one McIlroy replied with a grin: “Yeah, I’d love to go out there. I’d love Tiger to go out first and (I’d) kick his ass.”
Woods, like everyone else in the interview room, immediately erupted in laughter. A little later, he was asked whether he would appreciate such treatment by McIlroy during the biennial team competition at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.
“At Medinah? No,” the American replied with a smile as he leant in toward the microphone.
Woods and McIlroy went on to share lunch together after their respective Wednesday news conferences, and they relived the ‘Medinah moment’ while they ate.
“He just said, ‘There’s no way in hell you’re kicking my ass.’ Obviously it was just a joke, and it was funny. We had a laugh out of it, so it was good,” McIlroy grinned.
The fun-loving Northern Irishman, who won his second major title by a staggering eight shots at the PGA Championship earlier this month, generally wears his heart on his sleeve, one of several reasons why he endears himself to the crowds.
He is also very humble while possessing a raw talent for the game and an ability to manufacture shots which are envied by most of his peers.
“What an amazing talent he really is,” said Woods. “I just hope that everyone just lets him grow and develop as a player because it’s going to be fun to see over the next 20 years how this kid’s career is going to pan out.”
Though McIlroy was a little frustrated to lose momentum after the turn on his way to an opening 69 on the challenging Bethpage Black course, he relished the high-profile company of Woods.
“It was great, it’s always good,” the 23-year-old said of his 36-year-old playing partner. “Especially the first round of a tournament, it always adds a little bit of intensity to it.
“With it being the playoffs and having a grouping like that, I feel it just focuses you from the get-go.”
McIlroy’s stunning PGA Championship triumph at Kiawah Island triggered a mass of renewed speculation about his likely rivalry with Woods but the Northern Irishman prefers to talk about scores, not rivalries.
“There have been rivalries built up in golf before, but our main objective is breaking par on the course,” McIlroy said. “If we were playing match play every week, of course we could build up some sort of rivalries.
“Or players could. I’m not just saying Tiger and myself. We’re trying to shoot three under, four under, five under, we’re not trying to beat each other. Of course it’s nice, but you’re playing the course first and foremost.”