Rory McIlroy took a good-natured jab at Tiger Woods, who had just entered the room, which sent the message that he is not intimidated by Woods. Woods shouted back to the young champion, which sent the message that he is not fazed by the fact McIlroy is not intimidated.
Each went on to praise the other. That was as good as having each of them say, "See you on the first tee," which is what will happen this morning at Bethpage Black.
The rules of the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin Thursday with the Barclays, say that the groupings are determined by season-long FedEx points. So Woods, No. 1, and McIlroy, No. 3, will play together, alongside Zach Johnson, No. 4 (second-place Jason Dufner did not enter). History might say that it was golf's fates that assembled the 8:16 starting time and put Woods, the greatest player of his generation, with McIlroy, whom Woods described as part of the next generation.
It really was a sign of respect and fondness that, having seen Woods in the interview room, McIlroy, on the dais, answered a question about next month's Ryder Cup by saying, "I'd love Tiger to go out first and kick his [butt]." It was in the same spirit that Woods shot back, "Good to see you, too!"
For golf followers, it will be good to see both of them: McIlroy, 23, coming off his second runaway major championship victory, and Woods, 36, coming off a solid three-win season and another wobbly finish in a major. Their rounds together Thursday and Friday will fuel the discussion on whether Woods' time is nearly done and McIlroy's time is here. "It really focuses you from the get-go, a pairing like that," said McIlroy, the newly crowned PGA champion. "I feel every time I've played with Tiger, he has sort of brought the best out of me."
Woods said, "I got a chance this year to play with him at Abu Dhabi in a practice round there, and we really hit it off. He's a great kid and it's great to be around him."
Which was nice, but it was not a verbal torch-passing. Woods was given a chance during his own interview to say if he was prepared to get his backside kicked in the Ryder Cup at Medinah and he was not eager to continue the repartee. He just said, "At Medinah? No."
Woods waves no white flags of surrender to anyone, including Father Time. "That's the neat thing about what Jack had done. Jack competed against Arnold and Gary and Casper and then moved on to Watson and Trevino and Weiskopf and Miller. He crossed generations, and when you're a part of that conversation for the better part of 25 years, that's saying something," said the man who won the 2002 U.S. Open on this site.
Before he hoisted the trophy back then, Woods picked up on that tournament's meaning to New York in its post-9/11 phase. "Everyone came out with just amazing passion and stored-up energy, and I think that was just released that week," he said. "For us as players, it was incredible to play in front of."
McIlroy is respectful enough to have regard for that kind of thing. "Tiger has been the best player in the world for the last 15 years. That people are mentioning my name with the likes of him is a huge compliment."