ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 26: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland shakes hands with Tiger Woods of the USA on the ninth green during the first round of The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 26, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy challenges Tiger Woods to a Ryder Cup duel -- but this time he's just joking around.
Rory McIlroy can’t wait to beat up on Tiger Woods in next month’s Ryder Cup.
“I’d love Tiger to go out first and kick his ass, yeah,” McIlroy laughingly told the media on Wednesday ahead of The Barclays, this week’s launch of the four-game FedEx Cup playoff series.
The difference between McIlroy’s challenge this time around and when the young whippersnapper without portfolio popped off in 2010 about how he and his entire European team relished a bout with the then-struggling world’s best was that the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland was just kidding. In fact, the recently crowned PGA champ acknowledged Woods, who was standing at the back of the interview room, before issuing his challenge.
“I’m keeping him waiting here, so I’ll stop talking about him,” McIlroy, who had just discussed how much he enjoyed playing with the two-time FedEx Cup winner, said with a smile as he looked out at Woods. “Hi.”
The elder statesman played along with the joke when he took the microphone shortly thereafter.
“At what?” Woods dead-panned after a reporter asked if he were ready to have Rory hand him his butt should the two go head-to-head in the upcoming international matches at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. “At Medinah? No.”
While the two never squared off two years ago in Wales, their opening rounds together at Bethpage Black this week should make for great theater and potentially set the stage for a Ryder Cup showdown between the two biggest names in golf. For sure, both players looked forward to taking the field, along with Zach Johnson, on Thursday and Friday, but McIlroy, 23, was unwilling to concede that he and the 36-year-old Woods were engaged in any type of one-upmanship.
“I’ve always said, the players don't build up rivalries themselves, people from the outside build up the rivalries. I just want to play good golf,” McIlroy averred. “I want to try and keep winning golf tournaments. You know, that's all I can really concentrate on, just concentrate on myself.”
Woods, for his part, said he “enjoyed playing with Rory,” and hoped McIlroy shared the same sentiment.
“I got a chance this year to play with him at Abu Dhabi [in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship],” Woods said, “and we really hit it off. He's a great kid and it's great to be around him. What an amazing talent he really is.”
Woods has seen that talent up close over the years. In the tilt in Abu Dhabi in January, the two locked horns for three straight days, with McIlroy finishing a stroke ahead of Woods for the week. Most recently, they shared center stage in the final round of the Honda Classic, though they were not playing together.
McIlroy again came out on top when he won the event and bettered Woods by two shots. Despite his runner-up status, Woods finished up with that eye-popping final-round 62 that certainly grabbed his young opponent’s attention.
The next round between the two contestants begins on Thursday morning at 8:16 a.m. ET on the 10th tee at Bethpage State Park.