Olazabal talks up 'outstanding' McIlroy
Golf:If Rory McIlroy was not feeling the burden of expectation that comes with being the world number one heading into a Ryder Cup, he might well be now. Already picked out as "a target" by American player Jim Furyk and 2008 winning captain Paul Azinger, McIlroy was today compared to Tiger Woods in his prime by European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
Speaking after pairing McIlroy with fellow NOrthern Irishman Graeme McDowell in the first practice session at Medinah, the Spaniard said the Holywood golfer was "close" to the form the 14-time major winner was showing at the turn of the century.
"Obviously we have the world number one, he's playing great," Olazabal said. "Even though he didn't win the FedEx Cup (despite winning two of the four play-off events), the way he's played the last few months, he's been outstanding.
"I would say that he is at this moment very close to how good Tiger was at that stretch of time between 1999 and 2002, the way he's playing. He's full of confidence. He's got the whole game and in that regard it's great to have players like that on your team."
That is some compliment when you consider Woods won a myriad of regular events and seven major championships in that time, including the 'Tiger Slam' where he became the first man to hold all four major titles at the same time by winning the US Open, Open Championship and US PGA Championship in 2000 and the US Masters in 2001.
So far, McIlroy has two major titles to his credit - the US Open in 2011 and this year's US PGA Championship - and last week laughed off suggestions from former world number one Greg Norman that he now "intimidated" Woods.
Earlier, Woods said being a target was something he used to relish and McIlroy would too.
"It's part of being consistent," Woods added. "It's part of being ranked number one, it's part of winning major championships. You're always going to want to try and take out their best player, and that's just part of the deal. That's a fun challenge.
"I certainly have relished it over the years and I'm sure he's going to relish it this week."
McDowell today gave warning of what all of Europe’s players can expect when the Ryder Cup starts in Chicago on Friday. And he also gave the broadest of hints as to which eight he thinks will be involved as Olazabal’s side open the defence of the trophy he won so dramatically at Celtic Manor two years ago.
“There’s a world of difference between playing in front of your home fans and playing in front of the US fans,” said McDowell, who made his debut in the 2008 defeat at Valhalla, but then had McIlroy as his partner in Wales and is firmly expected to team up with him again this week.