Rory McIlroy gave Tiger Woods another media centre drubbing ahead of the Tour Championship finale that will decide who walks away with the FedEx Cup millions on Sunday night.
But whether he can do the same thing at East Lake remains to be seen amid talk of intimidation, hair loss and all round talent
As expected, Greg Norman’s recently-stated belief that Woods is now intimidated by McIlroy were at the top of the agenda for the game’s top two. Well, okay, at the top of the media agenda.
But while both joked about the Shark’s theory, McIlroy looked more at ease that ever in the media spotlight as Woods became increasingly monosyllabic in his efforts to deal with the Rory questions and his poor Ryder Cup record.
You don’t have to be a genius to work out when McIlroy is confident and happy with his game. When things are off - as they were in May and early June - he is grouchy on the golf course and mundane in the press room.
When things are going swimmingly, he is a media darling off the course and a bundle of joy between the ropes.
Despite winning the second and third playoff events, McIlroy can lose the FedEx Cup if anyone else in the top five in the standings wins this week, leading to a predictable, “If I win, I win,” assessment of the situation.
“I mean, it is what it is,” he said, borrrowing from the Woods lexicon. “I think I’ve got Vijay to thank for that from a few years ago. But I don’t mind. Look. It obviously still makes it exciting going into the last event. It would be nice to have it wrapped up, but it’s just the way it is. I’m not going to complain about it or I’m not going to moan about it. I accept it. I accept that I still have a lot of work to do this week, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
As for Norman’s theory that Woods is now intimidated by him, McIlroy played the humour card while all the time accentuating his friendly relationship with a competitor who was once regarded as the greatest predator in sports.
“He’s got a new nickname for me, actually,” McIlroy revealed with a grin. “He calls me the Intimidator. He’s obviously seen [Norman’s comments] too.
“No, how can I intimidate Tiger Woods? I mean, the guy’s got 75 or 70‑whatever PGA TOUR wins, 14 majors. I mean, he’s been the biggest thing ever in our sport.
I mean, how could some little 23‑year‑old from Northern Ireland with a few wins come up and intimidate him. It’s just not possible. I don’t know where he got that from, but it’s not true (laughing).”
Asked if there ever a time when he was intimidated by Tiger, McIlroy said: “No, I don’t think intimidated is the right word. More just in awe of what he’s done, of his accomplishments, of his achievements, but never intimidated.”
Whether that is strictly true or not is up for debate but what we have now is an interesting dynamic where the crown prince has wiggled his way onto the throne a little earlier than the king would have liked.
Woods respects and likes McIlroy and while a “Tiger death stare” would make for great viewing at East Lake and possible in the Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup, he’s not going to risk looking more powerless than ever.
McIlroy is not going to be intimidated by his golf game right now so Woods is happy to play along for laughs and leave the rest of the theorising to the media - and Greg Norman.
Q. Greg Norman made some headlines yesterday saying that you’re intimidated by Rory. Did you see those comments and what were your thoughts?
TIGER WOODS: It’s got to be the hair, yeah.
Q. Are you intimidated by Rory?
TIGER WOODS: As I said, it’s got to be the hair.
Woods went on to make the point that there can be no intimidation in golf because it’s not a contact sport. Anyone who has watched dozens melt in the white heat of a Woods’ charge will know that that’s nonsense.
Yet Tiger has nowhere else to go with this right no and only a convincing victory over McIlroy this week followed by a Ryder Cup singles tonking or a Masters win next April will change the thinking of Norman, Nick Faldo or anyone else who believes that the Woods era is now over.
As Faldo pointed out over the weekend, Woods is not going to go away without a fight and he’s patently fed up listening to the analysis.
Q. Rory is just the latest elite peer that your relationship and interaction with is dissected and analyzed to the hilt. What is your take on all of our takes about your relationship with him?
TIGER WOODS: I really don’t care.
Q. Anybody come closer than Greg Norman has?
TIGER WOODS: I really don’t care.
As for McIlroy’s Olympic-sized case of foot in mouth when declaring he feels more British than Irish, the young Ulsterman added a few more ounces of uncertainty to the pot in Atlanta when it came to Rio 2016
Whether he will he play and for whom, remains unknown.
“I think it just really hit home with me how important it is for a lot of people and how important my success has been to them. Obviously, I’ve had a lot of support from all sides, from people that call themselves Irish, from Northern Irish, to the whole of the UK, to people over here in the States. I’ve had support from everyone.
“It just hit home with me at how my success is welcomed by everyone. It would be terrible for me to nearly segregate myself from one of those group that supports me so much. So as I said in my letter last week, it’s four years away. I still have a bit of time to decide.
“After everything that happened last week, it definitely makes me reconsider my position and reconsider a lot of things. But, yeah, I’m very, very appreciative, and very grateful of the support that I get from everyone. That’s all I can really say on it.”
More interesting than the Olympic or any theoretical Ryder Cup showdown with Woods was McIlroy’s theory on why he’s played so well since The Open. It’s the putting stupid:
I think my putting. My putting has definitely been the key. I’m holing out more regularly and efficiently. I’m not wasting so many shots on the course by missing putts that I should hole. So that’s been the big key, especially the last few weeks, making putts when I need to at important points in the tournament.
Like the par save last week on 14, and then the birdie putt on 16 to get myself 3 ahead with a couple of holes to go. So I think it’s obviously holing putts, but holing putts at the right time at key moments.