Tiger Woods may have a new nickname for Rory McIlroy, but he was not about to share that -- or much of anything else about his flowering friendship/rivalry with the young Northern Irishman -- with the press.
“It’s gotta be the hair,” Woods said on Wednesday. Referring to “bald” quips McIlroy made recently about his buddy's receding hairline, Woods jokingly dismissed Greg Norman’s recent comment that his mystique had disappeared and that young McIlroy had turned the tables on the former No. 1.
“What I’m seeing is that Tiger’s really intimidated by Rory,” Norman told FoxSports earlier this week.
Woods brushed aside the notion that anyone had ever bullied him on the golf course.
“No, no one is the size of [Baltimore Ravens linebacker] Ray Lewis who is going to hit me coming over the middle, so this is a different kind of sport,” Woods said. “We go out there and we play our own game....It's not like you go over the middle and some guy is 255 pounds and going to take your block off.
“This is about execution and going about your own business and see where things end up at the end of the day.” Woods explained. “It's just the nature of our sport, which is different than some sports. Some individual sports, such as tennis, you actually can do that physically, because you're playing against somebody. Here no one is affecting any shots.”
Woods, who was more abrupt with some of his responses than he had been in recent weeks, apparently was not amused, while McIlroy pooh-poohed any such notion.
“I really don’t care,” Woods, his game face securely in place, responded icily to a question about his relationship with McIlroy, which has taken on a life of its own since the two best golfers in the world have shared the tee multiple times in recent weeks. The duo will have at least two more golf dates before the season ends, on Thursday and Friday at the Tour Championship.
“I really don’t care,” he snapped again, before a scribbler had fully asked a similar question.
The guess here is that Woods actually does care -- a lot -- that he has met the future and it is Rory. Nothing against the kid, who laughingly shared with reporters Tiger’s new moniker for him, “The Intimidator” -- but he delivered his reaction to whether he would enjoy going head-to-head with the pretender to his throne in Sunday’s singles at the Ryder Cup with a steely glare.
“That would be fun,” said Woods, whose body language spoke volumes about how much he wanted -- perhaps needed -- to win that duel against his heir apparent.
McIlroy, for his part, was having none of Norman’s claims. After noting that Woods had “obviously seen [the Shark’s comments] too,” given his new sobriquet, he took the Aussie to task for such a statement.
“No, how can I intimidate Tiger Woods?” an animated McIlroy said in a session with scribblers just ahead of Woods’ gathering. “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,” McIlroy said, adding with a laugh, “I don't know where he got that from, but it's not true.”
McIlroy was equally adamant that Woods, whom he grew up admiring, had never made him quake in his boots.
“No, I don't think ‘intimidated’ is the right word,” he said about his reaction to playing with the best golfer of his -- and, likely, any other -- generation. “More just in awe of what he's done, of his accomplishments, of his achievements, but never intimidated.”
McIlroy reiterated how much fun it was to play with his new pal and that he looked forward to renewing their acquaintanceship in the opening rounds at East Lake.
“It's a great position to be in. Every time that we get paired up, I'm obviously very excited for it,” McIlroy said. “It's a great buzz. It's a great buzz around the group. So, no, it's still a great thing for me.
“You'll have to ask him if he feels the same way,” he added. “But for me it's very exciting, and I'm looking forward to that first tee on Thursday.”
As for recent comments that he may pressure Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal to schedule him against Woods in Sunday’s singles match at Medinah, McIlroy took a step back.
“No, it's about the team. It's about the 12 guys as part of the European team and the US Team,” he said. “It's not about one guy playing another guy.”
McIlroy conceded there were “a lot of people that would like to see it [and] It would be very exciting to be a part of, of course. But I just want to win as many points as possible for Europe, and that's all I can really do.
“I'm not going to sit here and lie and say I wouldn't enjoy it, because I would," McIlroy admitted. “But I think that's up to the captain to decide where I play and where he wants to put me, and whatever decision he makes is good with me.”