When Tiger Woods saw his new good friend Rory McIlroy on Wednesday at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, he immediately pinned a new nickname on the younger player: "The Intimidator." McIlroy, smiling, said Woods "obviously" had seen the comments from Greg Norman on Tuesday.
McIlroy and most people involved in professional golf certainly heard about Norman's interview with Robert Lusetich of Foxsports.com, in which he said Woods' cordial relationship with McIlroy was a sign of virtual torch-passing and that Woods is now "intimidated" by the 23-year-old who has won three of his past four tournaments.
For the record, both Woods and McIlroy said Wednesday they would like to play each other in the Ryder Cup next week. And, predictably, neither endorsed Norman's opinion.
"It's got to be the hair," Woods said, when he was asked at his news conference about McIlroy's intimidation factor. Woods went on to say, "No one is the size of Ray Lewis who is going to hit me coming over the middle. 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."
McIlroy was typically more expansive, saying, with a laugh, "How can I intimidate Tiger Woods? I mean, the guy's got 70-whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. He's been the biggest thing ever in our sport. 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 [Norman] got that from, but it's not true."
McIlroy and Woods will be paired in the first two rounds of the Tour Championship, as they have been in each of the previous three FedEx Cup playoff events. Groupings are done according to the points standings. Woods has been more outgoing than he usually is toward his rivals, and McIlroy has enjoyed the repartee.
During a news conference at the Barclays at Bethpage last month, with Woods in the room, McIlroy joked about wanting to "kick Tiger's [butt]" at the Ryder Cup. Woods didn't respond in kind, but later told McIlroy at a private lunch that such a result never will happen.
Wednesday, both were asked again about a possible matchup in singles.
"That would be fun," Woods said.
"I'm not going to sit here and lie and say I wouldn't enjoy it, because I would," McIlroy said.
McIlroy added that it was up to European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
Woods also was asked about all the attention and speculation that the friendship has raised. Without a second of hesitation, he said, "I really don't care."