McIlroy looking forward to taking on Tiger
THEIR FIRST names are, these days, sufficient to whet the appetite in sporting conflict. Tiger v Rory. Rory v Tiger. Whichever way you put it, the juices flow. Now, just over a week on from the Ryder Cup where such a frontal assault between the world’s top two players never materialised, McIlroy and Woods will definitely match-up against one another in this week’s Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in Antalya.
With €1.1 million to the eventual winner of this eight-man tournament, McIlroy and Woods have been drawn in the same four-man group alongside Charl Schwartzel and Matt Kuchar. The top two players from the round-robin series which is played on a medal matchplay format advance to the semi-finals. The second group comprises Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan and US Open champion Webb Simpson.
McIlroy, who arrived in Turkey yesterday but admitted he hadn’t hit a ball in anger since helping Europe to a memorable win in the Ryder Cup at Medinah, “I’m still trying to come down from the high of it,” confessed McIlroy, the world number one, adding he was looking forward to the head-to-head with Woods which will be the final match of the initial round-robin series.
“It’s something I’m looking forward to. Tiger’s been a hero of mine growing up, so to compete against him is a dream come true. This will be the first match we have had head-to-head and it’s a match I would really like to win. It’s a bit different to the Ryder Cup because it’s medal matchplay and it will be a bit more relaxed than the final day of a Major . . . (but) we will both be trying to beat each other,” said McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman also revealed it was interesting to watch in player “in the zone,” as Ian Poulter was when making a finishing stretch of five birdies in the finishing five holes of their fourballs on the Saturday afternoon of the Ryder Cup. “I have experienced it before when you feel like you are in the zone but to see someone doing it under that pressure is very, very impressive.”
McIlroy opens his quest in the tournament with a match today against Kuchar. He plays Schwartzel tomorrow morning, followed by the mouth-watering duel with Woods tomorrow afternoon, after which the top two players from the group advance.
The format is medal matchplay – head-to-head with the lowest strokeplay score over 18 holes winning one point – and each player plays three group matches with the top two from each group moving one (winner of Group A playing runner-up in Group B, and vice versa) with the semi-finals on Thursday and the final on Friday.
Woods, incidentally, reportedly apologised to “rookie” members of Davis Love’s US Ryder Cup team after the defeat at Medinah. The former world number one took just half a point from four matches and took debutants Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner and Simpson aside to say sorry. “I had an opportunity to earn three points in team sessions and didn’t do that . . . my point (in the singles against Francesco Molinari) didn’t matter when all was said and done. Steve Stricker and I were sent out to win points and we didn’t do it. That was frustrating.
“It has been difficult. We held a great lead and couldn’t manage to win from a perfect position (10-6 ahead). That was tough. We had guys out early on Sunday to get points and that didn’t happen. It was left to us at the back but it came down to the situation where my point didn’t matter.”
The 36-year-old revealed yesterday he had been consumed by family matters immediately after the defeat. “As soon as I got home, I had two sick kids to take care of,” Woods said. “They were not at school, they had fevers, so I had to focus on them. Then I started to speak to friends and it started to sink in. That’s when it got tough.”
Woods disputed the notion a lack of team spirit undermined the USA cause. He also confirmed an ambition to captain the side. “That’s because you weren’t in the team room, you weren’t in the team,” he answered to the claim of a shortage of collective care. “It has been the same since I first played, in 1997. That hasn’t changed. We have always been a great team unit.”
He added: “It would be a huge honour for me to be captain of a Ryder Cup team. Hopefully it will not happen in the near future because I would like to play on more but one day when my career is slowing down or over it would be huge to be part of a Ryder Cup from the captaincy side of things.”
The inaugural tournament (with a purse of €4 million) is part of a bid to attract bigger sporting events to Turkey and the presence of McIlroy and Woods represents something of a coup. It will be watched live in over 50 countries.
Eight Irish players are in the field for the Portugal Masters in the Algarve, starting on Thursday, with three-time Major champion Pádraig Harrington fronting the contingent that includes Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin and Paul McGinley. Simon Thornton is first reserve.
Although three members of Europe’s winning team are in Turkey – McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Rose – in the unsanctioned tournament, just two of them play in the regular European Tour pitstop in Portugal. Germany’s Martin Kaymer and Italian Francesco Molinari are competing in Portugal where Europe’s winning captain José Maria Olazabal makes his competitive reappearance after Medinah. England’s Tom Lewis is seeking to become the first player to successfully defend the title.