The Tour Championship: The Rory and Tiger Show

The best thing about the Tour Championship in Atlanta is that only the 30 best players in the world are there. This is not just elite, it’s super elite. The…30…best…players…in…the…world. As measured by the years they had in 2012.

For golf junkies, it’s exhilarating. It all comes down to this, the season ending event which determines the Tour Champion and the winner of the FedExCup. All in one neat bundle.

And what this convention of the best produces is a slew of dream pairings. And this week, this year, there is none better than the one we get at East Lake Golf Club on Thursday: FedExCup points No.1, Rory McIlroy, paired with FedExCup points No.2, Tiger Woods. World No. 1 paired with World No. 2.  Leading Money Winner No.1 paired with Leading Money Winner No.2. Bliss.

They go off in the last group at 1:55 PM. And each of them is looking forward to the pairing as well.

Are you sick of playing with Tiger, and do you think he’s sick of playing with you?

(Laughing) No, it’s great.  It’s a great position to be in.  Every time that we get paired up, I’m obviously very excited for it.  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.  But for me it’s very exciting, and I’m looking forward to that first tee on Thursday.

Greg Norman made some headlines yesterday saying that you’re intimidated by Rory.  Did you see those comments and what were your thoughts?

It’s got to be the hair, yeah.

Are you intimidated by Rory?

As I said, it’s got to be the hair.

Have you ever been intimidated by any other golfers?

No, no one is the size of Ray Lewis [Baltimore Raven’s All-Pro Middle Linebacker] who is going to hit me coming over the middle, so this is a different kind of sport.  We go out there and we play our own game.  And see where it falls at the end of the day.

This is about execution and going about your own business and see where it ends up at the end of the day.  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.

Tiger was asked a number of other good questions for which he had some very interesting answers. This first one started out asking about him, but his answer segued into how much all of the players have put into getting to this point.

Tiger, right now, how would you rate yourself physically overall?

I feel great.  It was nice to take that week off.  We just had a little luncheon or brunch, and some of the guys were telling me it was nice to shut down, and not to touch a club for four or five days.  It’s been a long haul for us since probably the British Open.  We’ve played two major championships, the World Golf Championship and three playoff events in that stretch.

So we’ve played a lot of golf in there.  It was nice to take a week off, shut it down, and gear up for these two weeks.

And then a couple of good questions looking ahead to the Ryder Cup:

Tiger, you’ve had a lot of different partners in the Ryder Cup, what is the key element to finding a good partner and meshing with him?  Is it your games mesh or is it more of a personality mesh?

I think it’s just playing well.  It’s not really complicated.  We went through a stage there, especially now, the format has changed now.  We don’t have to play the one ball rule.  That was a big deal for a number of years is to be able to figure out an alternate shot, who is playing what ball, then on top of that, what compression within that company.  That does change quite a bit.  Now we can drive with our teammate’s ball and have them fire it into the green with their ball.  So that’s fine.  I think there is less strategy when it comes to that now.

I’ve played with all different types of different personalities and different types of games, and it’s about just going out there and playing well.  It’s not rocket science.  You’ve just got to go out there and hit a lot of good golf shots and make a lot of putts.

To follow on that, going into the Ryder Cup, of all the captains you’ve played for, have you found that how they were as a captain kind of reflected their personality as a player?  If that’s the case, what are you expecting out of Davis?

Absolutely.  I think the way they’ve competed is very similar to how they captain.  Some guys are — let’s say the two extremes that I’ve had, one being Hal [Sutton], who is very emotional, and one being Tom Kite who is very calculating.  Tom went through percentages and Hal was more just whatever he feels, he’s going with.  And that’s how they played.  Both were very successful and that’s how they played.

We had one of our assistants, being Freddy, who is very lax and almost lackadaisical, but he’s extremely competitive.  Most of the guys don’t see that, but we see it in the team rooms, and that is how some of the guys are.  Now Davis has been — I’ve gotten to know him a little bit more over the years, but I’m actually really excited about having him as our captain.  He’s very focused on what we’re trying to.  He’s put a ton of effort into this.  It’s good to see.

McIlroy had two other fine moments in his media session. The first had to do with the aforementioned Greg Norman comment. Given Tiger’s predilection for giving other players nicknames, it turned into a funny moment:

Greg Norman made some headlines with comments saying that Tiger is intimidated by you.  Did you see those comments and what were those thoughts?

[Tiger’s] got a new nickname for me, actually.  He calls me the Intimidator.  He’s obviously seen [the comments] too (smiling).  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).

And finally, the thing about playing on the PGA Tour is that it is the greatest meritocracy in the world. If you can play great, you can get there. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. So as a result, the Tour has gradually morphed into a true international tour. Great players come from all over the world. But we tend to think of them more as an amalgam of great players rather than thinking first of their nationalities. [I yearn for the day when the fans of the LPGA begin to think of those great players that way too.]

In any event, with the advent of golf in the 2016 Olympics, all of a sudden nationality matters. And this has created quite a problem for Rory McIlroy. Will he play for Northern Ireland, Ireland or will he play for Great Britain? He has said that he is very proud of his Northern Irish heritage, but he has also always thought of himself as a citizen of Great Britain as a whole. He said that he hasn’t made up his mind yet, but his answer to that question today was so self-effacing and deft, you wonder where a 23-year-old gets that kind of “touch.”

An Olympic question: three years ago I believe you were asked about the Olympics.  You gave basically the same answer.  There was little fanfare.  Were you surprised at the reaction it got this time?  What do you make of it?  Was there anything for you to learn from the whole thing?

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.

Tiger’s new nickname for him will probably be the Great Britain Irishman from Northern Ireland. It does have sort of a lilting phrasing to it.

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