The match-up that we were all hoping for is no longer just a possibility — it is indeed happening. Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood both won their quarterfinal matches, beating Sang-Moon Bae and Martin Laird, respectively.
Why are we calling this a “grudge” match? I mean, aren’t Rory and Westy like besties?
Well, first of all, no — they were “friendly” and exchanged “banter” on Twitter when McIlroy and Westwood shared the same management company, ISM, headed by Chubby Chandler. The two were always seen together because of the circumstances, but it didn’t mean they were best buddies. (To my understanding, Rory thought they were friends and perhaps they were — until the young Northern Irishman started to beat the elder Englishman.)
Last fall McIlroy broke up with Chubby after the Grand Slam and announced he was joining Horizon, the same agency that handles Rory’s good mate Graeme McDowell.
Rory, who is usually candid and forthcoming, was rather vague when asked to elaborate on his decision. But he did specify he wanted a new “environment.” That said, McIrloy’s relationship with Westwood appeared to become increasingly tense over the year (despite insistence by all parties involved that they were good mates, but that wasn’t the case according to insiders).
Some of Westwood’s comments with regard to Rory came across as jealous or resentful, like during the U.S. Open.
They maintain there isn’t any animosity or tension between them.
“We definitely don’t spend as much time together as we used to, but it’s totally fine,” said Rory. “He’s obviously a rival of mine on the golf course, and someone that‑‑ he’s one of the best players in the world and a great ballstriker. He’s a guy that you look out for every week in a tournament and he’s the guy you feel like you have to beat to win…There’s no ill feeling between me and him or Chubby or anyone. It’s all been very, very positive.”
Not according to Westwood!
“Rory doesn’t want to spend time with the people that manage me, and I don’t want to spend time with the people that manage Rory,” said Lee in his post-match presser. “But there’s nothing strained about the relationship between the two of us. It’s still the same as it was. We had a chat on the steps out there. Rory said to me before I went out, see you tomorrow morning. And then today again there he said, ‘See, told you.’ That’s the trouble with kids nowadays, they think they’re always right, don’t they?”
Asked how he’d characterize his relationship with Rory, Westwood simply said, “It’s good.”
Translation… never mind.
And these comments from Rory are somewhat telling.
“The relationship that G‑Mac and I have is a little bit different than the one I have with Lee,” said Rory, referring to playing against G-Mac at last year’s Match Play. “And I think it was better for me not to speak to G‑Mac because we could speak all day and it almost would become too friendly. So that was sort of what was in the back of my mind. I was just trying to concentrate on myself. It’s tough to play a friend.
“And I just thought that match with G‑Mac, that’s what I needed to do. Obviously it didn’t work, he beat me. Maybe the next time I play him I’ll chat him a bit more. Of course, I’m sure there will be a few chats on the way around tomorrow. But we’re both here to try and do a job and try to win and that’s the most important thing.”
The two have traded places at the No. 2 and No. 3 spot for quite some time. This week, McIlroy supplanted Westwood. The OWGR throne is also potentially up for grabs. If Westy or Rory go on to win the finals and capture the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, he will supplant Luke Donald as No. 1. (To be clear, the winner of the semifinals grudge match will then have to beat the winner of the other semis match — either Hunter Mahan or Mark Wilson.)
Oh yeah, it’s on!
I already have a few wagers on this much-anticipated duel and my money is on … Rory. (Duh.) I know his ballstriking hasn’t been the best (by his standards), but um, someone obviously worked on his short game in the off-season! — or as a friend of the blog and PGATour.com anchor Amanda Balionis would say, “Straight nasty.”
(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)