RORY McILROY could never have imagined that a throwaway remark about Tiger Woods last month would come back to haunt him during one of the biggest weeks of his career.
After Woods finished 18 over par in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Akron, Ohio, McIlroy expressed an opinion that any member of the European team would fancy their chances of beating him in the Ryder Cup.
Ever since, the controversy about the comment has been gathering speed and not surprisingly it is now into overdrive as the big day draws ever nearer.
Woods himself has fanned the flames (“I would enjoy the challenge”) even as US captain Corey Pavin has carefully but cannily also carefully responded to questions on the subject.
Quite clearly, he’d prefer if it didn’t go away. Equally understandably, however, Pavin’s European counterpart Colin Montgomerie must be quietly seething at the notoriety the remark is creating while manfully attempting to make as little as possible of it in public. And he paled at the suggestion that he might try to arrange the pairings so that Woods and McIlroy would meet tomorrow morning.
“No, I almost want to avoid that situation but I can’t avoid it,” said Monty. “There’s a one in four chance if Tiger plays and Rory plays. So I’m not trying to find out where Tiger might be playing and vice versa. If it does happen, great, we look forward to that challenge and I’m sure Rory and Tiger would, too.
“A lot has been made of this if you ask me. This is about a team, not about individuals.”
McIlroy certainly got a shock on his arrival at the first tee yesterday morning. In spite of the pouring rain, his practice playing partners Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald and all the caddies were waiting there wearing Rory-like wigs. They all had a good laugh about it, drove off and walked down the fairway still sporting their “head gear”.
It was soon dispensed with and it was back to business. But the public curiosity had been aroused, leaving Montgomerie to explain what it was all about.
“I think Rory was upset about the comments made in the papers about this Tiger situation,” he said. “It was getting a bit out of hand tabloid-wise. So we decided to find seven wigs. They were making him feel part of the team again and that was the right thing to do. They just wanted to build him up again. He played magnificent golf today so we’re all back on level terms again.”
A storm in a tabloid tea cup? I think so. If Woods and McIlroy do happen to clash over the next three days, I am certain they will behave in a thoroughly professional manner without any sense of personal rancour.
Woods himself knows only too well what it is to make a mistake and will bear in mind that McIlroy is still only 21. True, the controversy is of his own making and Rory needs to watch his tongue; this is only one of several unfortunate remarks he has made in the last year or two.
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