The bromance between world No 1 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods is becoming so hot and heavy he’d better make sure he keeps his streak going.
In the eyes of some, McIlroy’s burgeoning romance with Caroline Wozniacki co-incided with the dip in form that immediately preceded his current run.
Following an eight-shot win in the US PGA and Monday’s workman-like closing out of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, McIlroy was back in the zone at Crooked Stick, carding an eight under par 64 to outscore Woods by a shot and grab a share of the lead with Webb Simpson, Bo Van Pelt and Graham DeLaet.
That he did it alongside Tiger did not go unnoticed. Nor did they way they laughed and joked their way around the course before Woods chipped in at the last for a 65 to keep the kid they call the “Boy Wonder” in his sights.
Mutual respect fuels their relationship as much as any rivalry. And while one wonders if McIlroy’s rise will spur Woods on to win the five majors he needs to overtake Jack Nicklaus, it’s easy to forget how much McIlroy will take from this new dynamic.
Right now he’s in the Rory Zone, one of those rare but spectacular times when he has the ball on a string, putts well and saves par from everywhere.
But if he’d being paying attention to Woods at Crooked Stick yesterday, he’d have seem how the former No 1 shot 65 without playing his very best stuff.
It wasn’t so much what McIlroy said after making an eagle, seven birdies and one bogey that was interesting but what he said the day before.
“It’s very difficult to play like that all the time, and that’s why it’s the great players, they learn to win when they’re not playing their best,” McIlroy said of life in the Zone.
“That’s something, I’ve said this before, that I still feel like I’m learning to do. I think I sort of did that for a little bit of last week. I struggled to close out the tournament, but a couple of crucial up‑and‑downs on the way in, which helped, and that’s what the great players do; they find a way.”
Woods had to chip in for birdie at the ninth to shoot 65 and lose by only one to McIlroy.
Perhaps it was the Rory effect but having being outgunned off the tee for distance and accuracy and then outgunned from there to the green, he felt he’d played poorly enough.
When asked about the incredible display of scoring by the group (Nick Watney shot 70), Woods said: “I was scoring. I wasn’t playing particularly well, but I scored.
“Rory on the other hand played beautifully today. Every single part of his game was working. It all looked good. I was very fortunate to post the number I shot.”
Watching them go head to head with their A games will be unmissable sport and Woods appears to love being challenged.
But he didn’t just pay lip service to McIlroy, he praised him to high heaven.
“This is my 17th year out here,” Woods said. “The guys I battled head‑to‑head are early 40s if not late 40s, like Vijay is late 40s. This is the next generation of guys….he’s very mature. He understands and he handles it well, and he’s been a pro for a while.
“It’s not like he just came out of college at his age, what, 22, 23. He’s been out here a while. He’s played all around the world, and that’s really helped. That helps in your development as a player but also as a person playing in multiple countries….
“He’s a nice kid, he really is. It’s fun to play with him, and he’s just an amazing talent. You watch him swing the club and watch him putt and play, he doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses.
“You can see that in the next decade or so as he really matures and understands some of the nuances of the game, he’s only going to get better, and that’s kind of fun to see.
“Anything I can learn from Rory? I wish I could hit it as far as he does.”
Wood and McIlroy did a two-handed TV interview earlier with Tiger giving the perfect sound bite.
“He hits it great, putts it great, and on top of that, he’s just a really nice kid,” said Woods before going to a bite to eat with McIlroy. “The game of golf is in great hands with him, and he’s here to stay.”
No doubt Tiger’s manager at Excel Sports, Mark Steinberg, would love to say the same thing.
As for McIlroy, he’s hellbent on winning the $10m FedEx Cup. But he’s also enjoying the experience of really showing Woods what he can do.
“The more I’ve played with him, obviously the more comfortable I’ve been, and I think that’s showed the last few weeks,” McIlroy said after finishing the day tied for the lead with US Open champion Webb Simpson, Bo Van Pelt and the Canadian Graham DeLaet.
“It was great. I felt like my iron play was some of the best it’s been all year, basically in my whole life. I was giving myself a lot of opportunities to attack the pins from the fairways, as well. I just have to try and keep doing that for the next three days.”