Tiger taunt could come back to haunt McIlroy

Graeme McDowell believes Rory McIlroy’s criticism of Tiger Woods could come back to haunt him in the Ryder Cup.

But the US Open champion insists that he’d gladly welcome the chance to stare down the 14-time major winner as often as possible next week.

McIlroy raised eyebrows last month when he said that he’d “love” to face Woods at Celtic Manor - “unless his game rapidly improves.”

The young Ulsterman then threw more fuel on the fire by adding: “I think anyone in the European team would fancy their chances against him.”

McDowell knows that taunting Woods is never a good idea and he fears that the game’s top player might be out for revenge in the Ryder Cup.

Bracing himself for a Woods backlash, McDowell said: “I’m always a bit wary to say anything where Tiger is involved because he is the greatest player to have played the game and anyone that’s said things like that in the past, it’s come back to haunt them.

“I think of Stephen Ames at world match play a few years ago and there’s been a few more examples of that.

“I do agree with Rory to a certain extent. I think what he’s trying to say is that Tiger is less invincible nowadays than he has been in the past – just currently.”

McIlroy and McDowell might have eased the blow by calling Woods’ slump a temporary thing.

But Woods has proved in the past that he’s got a very long memory.

In the 2000 Presidents Cup, Vijay Singh’s caddie wore a cap with the phrase “Tiger who?” on the back after Singh and teammate Retief Goosen defeated Woods and Notah Begay. The next day, Woods defeated Singh 2 and 1.

At the 2006 World Match Play Championship, Ames took a shot at Woods’ erratic driving, telling reporters that, “anything can happen, especially when he’s hitting the ball.”

Ames then suffered the heaviest defeat in the history of the World Match Play Championship, losing 9 and 8 to Woods in the first round.

When asked if Ames’ comments sparked a fire under him, Woods replied: “You might say that. As I said, 9 and 8.”

In 2007, Rory Sabbatini claimed that Woods was “more beatable than ever” at the Wachovia Championship.

When they were paired together in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational later that year, Tiger got his revenge by turning a one-shot deficit into an eight-shot victory by shooting a 65 to the South African’s 74.

Woods has not won a tournament this year but as Padraig Harrington suggested last week, he can salvage something from a nightmare season by putting on a Ryder Cup show.

Assessing the Woods situation, McDowell said: “When you look at the kind of golf he played in 2000 and some of his other big years, he’s been simply unbeatable.

“I agree with Rory, he is more beatable nowadays but you never know which Tiger Woods is going to turn up next week.

“I fully expect him to come back to form. He seems to be playing a lot better the last few weeks and I’d love to play him on Sunday afternoon in the singles with the Ryder Cup on the line.

“It’d be an amazing experience. I’d love to be involved in a couple of matches with him but I’d always be wary about making comments against Tiger.

“He tends to bottle these things up and take it out on you on the golf course.”

While he admits that individual success is hugely important, McDowell is an avid fan of team golf and Ireland’s great record in the Ryder Cup.

He said: “I grew up with the Ryder Cup and have just loved every second of it. Obviously the Irish affinity with the Ryder Cup is a big part of why it’s quite close to my heart with Christy and Darcy and McGinley and Clarkey at the K Club.

“There’s something about Irish players and how much passion they have. They just seem to embrace the team environment and always have.

“I think I’m no different when I come to that and I think that’s why I hold it in such esteem.”

He also knows that McIlroy will love it, despite his initial assertion that it was nothing more than an “exhibition” that is there it be enjoyed.

McDowell explained: “Of course, Major Championships are what really define a player when their career is all said and done. But to me it’s about Ryder Cups as well and teams you’ve played on and winning for your country or your continent.

“I just feel like sharing it with 11 other players and the experiences you have are just so different to what we are usually used to in golf. Until players get out there and taste it for the first time, they don’t understand it. It’s something I’m definitely a big fan of.”