Golf’s two biggest stars, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, will be grouped together for the first time ever in an official PGA Tour event during the opening two rounds of The Barclays.
World number one McIlroy, fresh off a dominant victory at the PGA Championship 10 days ago, says he is looking forward to going head–to–head with his boyhood idol when the tournament begins on Thursday at the Bethpage course.
“It really focuses you from the get-go, a pairing like that,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to it. I really enjoy his company. I know we’ll have a good time out there.”
Northern Irishman McIlroy and Woods aren’t complete strangers on the golf course. They played in the same pairing for one round at Woods’ Chevron World Challenge exhibition tournament two years ago and they spent three rounds together at the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship earlier this year.
But this time there are more bragging rights on the line — Woods leads the FedEx Cup points standings and McIlroy’s eight-shot victory at the PGA Championship saw him surpass Luke Donald to take the number one ranking spot.
“He’s a great kid and it’s great to be around him,” Woods, who shared a high five with McIlroy at Wednesday’s press conference, said.
“What an amazing talent he really is. I just hope that everyone just lets him grow and develop as a player because it’s going to be fun to see over the next 20 years how this kid’s career is going to pan out.”
American Woods has had a host of rivals over the years, including Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh but none of them have been able to keep pace with him over the long haul.
There is also a chance that McIlroy, 23, and 13 years younger than Woods, could go head-to-head in the upcoming Ryder Cup.
“Yeah, I’d love to go out there. I’d love Tiger to go out first and kick his (butt),” McIlroy said jokingly about the Ryder Cup.
His PGA Championship win marked his second major victory by eight strokes, and he now has two majors at a younger age than Woods.
Woods and McIlroy will be playing together during the opening two rounds of The Barclays because the event groups players based on their FedEx Cup standings — Woods is in first place while McIlroy is currently third.
Wednesday’s high five indicated how cordial the pair’s rivalry is.
“I always wanted to be part of that conversation,” Woods said of going up against the new world number one.
“That’s the neat thing about what Jack (Nicklaus) had done. He crossed generations, and when you’re a part of that conversation for the better part of 25 years, that’s saying something.
“I was kind of hoping when I started off my career I’d be part of that conversation for that length of time.”
Woods won the 2002 US Open on the Bethpage course which will play as a par-71 this week.
The event also marks the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The top 100 in the standings advance to the second round at the Deutsche Bank Championship and then the top 70 move on to the BMW Championship.
The top 30 reach the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship with the winner pocketing $10 million.