Last Thursday after both were eliminated in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy was wheeling his travel bag out to the parking lot when he saw world No. 2 Tiger Woods was putting his in the trunk of his car. The two acknowledged each other in a “yeah, this sucks, I’ll see you later, man” kind of way, and then later Tiger texted Rory and invited him to play at The Medalist on Sunday morning.
Yep, that was the face-off everyone hoped to watch in a perfect world at the actual finals of the Match Play Championship in chilly Marana, Arizona.
Instead, it happened at Woods’ home course in sunny South Florida (in more ideal conditions). Rory said it was his first time playing Medalist and they were joined by former NFL receiver and new panelist on the daily talk-show Morning Drive on Golf Channel.
Oh, and they played 36 holes fast — though it should be noted that they rode in carts.
“We teed off at about 8:00 and I was home by 1:30,” said McIlroy at his press conference at PGA National on Tuesday morning. “So we played quick. He putts with pin in. He doesn’t, I mean, it’s just like speed golf. It was good. It was really enjoyable.”
Tiger won the first match and Rory beat him in the second round, so they finished even.
“We thought we would play our own match-play final,” said Rory, laughing, “except it was over 36.”
Now that sounds like a fun, friendly yet competitive match that many wouldn’t mind as their dream foursome, so to speak.
Rory didn’t reveal any more during his formal presser, but he did disclose more details during an informal gathering at the Bose event, announcing and toasting Rory as a new global ambassador.
Wearing a button-up plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up casually and blue jeans, McIlroy, who was surrounded by around 15 media members and perhaps half-a-dozen photographers, held court for nearly 30 minutes, answering questions from everything about what he listens to with his Bose headphones to his relatively recent move to Old Palm. (Imagine another world No. 1 or just top player doing the same thing.)
McIlroy is a member at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida. Asked when he’d have Tiger come play a match on his home turf, Rory said, “Whenever he wants to come.”
Since it was Rory’s first time playing Medalist in his 36-hole grudge match on Sunday, Tiger was “very generous” in giving him home-course tips. Rory said he gave him sight lines and some putts. (Asked if he had a game going on with Rashad, he shrugged and said, no, but Tiger had a side bet or something with him — I wonder how many strokes Tiger gave him?)
“If I play with Tiger, I jump at the chance because he’s maybe the best — if not, the best — in the world to have played the game,” said Rory in the informal scrum at PGA National. “It’s good to go up against him and see where your game is. I mean, this is going to be his 19th Masters (at the age of 37)! That’s just impressive.”
Added Rory when asked about Tiger being different than the guy we usually see at the golf course: “Yeah, he’s just a normal guy.”
They exchange friendly jabs and joke around, like the other boys. Rory said one comment he made to Tiger was, “All that fist-pumping on the 18th green was for nothing.” McIlroy was referring to Tiger’s final-round 62 at last year’s Honda Classic. However, Rory didn’t falter and still beat him by two shots, winning the event that launched him to world No. 1 for the first time in his career at the ripe age of 22. (Hard to believe he’s only 23 since he holds himself with such composure and maturity.)
Rory also talked more about the constant questions and criticisms he gets when he faces the media — whether it’s regarding a mini-slump or equipment change, etc.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland acknowledged that it’s part of the deal of being the world’s No. 1 player. In other words, he gets it.
“It’s a nice position to be in,” said McIlroy, surveying the crowd encompassing him. “To have 15 media members surrounding you at a sponsor event…rather than being ranked-(much lower) in the world and nobody caring.
“It’s only been three months. It’s not like I’ve played six events and missed six cuts.”
He caught himself and quickly knocked his head twice to be safe, causing the scrum to erupt in laughter (which happened throughout the 30 minutes).
McIlroy, who switched to Nike Golf clubs and ball in the off-season, has played three competitive rounds in 2013. He missed the cut (along with Woods) in his season-opener in Abu Dhabi, and then he was upset by boyhood friend Shane Lowry last week in Match Play.
Despite defeating his old pal, Lowry has texted Rory asking to play The Bears Club this week. Lowry tried to Monday qualify into the Honda Classic, but he missed a spot in the field by one shot.
Rory, who sported a slight tan (for him), has liked his decision to sell his home in Northern Ireland (which is just about finalized), and his move to South Florida last year in regards for practicing and playing golf.
“I’ve always enjoyed this area,” said Rory. “For me, it’s a perfect base. The east coast is an easy flight back to Europe.” (His parents are in town a lot, but they still live in Belfast.)
He joked that his dad Gerry plays more at The Bear’s Club than he does.
For the not-so-upcoming future? Rory told me it’s nice to live in Florida for golfing purposes, obviously. But when it’s all said and done, he’d prefer to settle somewhere else. He even said with enthusiasm, “Like New York!” (Knowing that’s where I live.) His girlfriend tennis star Caroline Wozniacki recently bought an apartment on Union Square West. Wow, we’re practically neighbors! — that’s only a few blocks from me.
I was going to suggest we all get together sometime and have a double-date dinner party or something, but a fan jumped in and asked if Rory would take a picture with him. The nerve! (Kidding in case that wasn’t clear.)