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Ryder Cup notebook

Much ado about nothing

Is Woods-McIlroy feud overblown?

Phil Mickelson will need a strong performance for the US to have a chance to reign in Wales. Phil Mickelson will need a strong performance for the US to have a chance to reign in Wales. (Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press / September 30, 2010

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NEWPORT, Wales — Phil Mickelson came to the defense of Rory McIlroy yesterday, calling him one of the classiest players in golf and his desire to play Tiger Woods is the goal of every player who wants to beat the best.

The back-and-forth between McIlroy and Woods has captivated the early days of the Ryder Cup. McIlroy said in August he would “love to face’’ the world’s No. 1 player unless his game improves. Asked about that comment, Woods defiantly said, “Me, too.’’

Mickelson was surprised to hear it had become such a big story.

“That’s the type of charisma that Rory McIlroy has,’’ Mickelson said. “He’s just like any other top player that wants to take on the best. That’s not any type of controversy or saga.’’

Padraig Harrington said everyone on Europe’s team wanted to play Woods in previous Ryder Cups because when the world’s No. 1 player was on top of his game, his opponents had nothing to lose. Woods was expected to win every match.

Now that Woods is a captain’s pick who has failed to win this year, Harrington isn’t so sure.

“In many ways, it will be a tougher match this time around,’’ Harrington said. “He’ll be more enthusiastic, more motivated, so I would be very wary of him myself.’’

Woods said a year ago McIlroy had the game to eventually be No. 1 in the world. The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland won his first US tour event this year by closing with a record 62 at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy tied a major championship record when he opened with a 63 at St. Andrews in the British Open, where he tied for third; and he tied for third at the PGA Championship.

Told that Woods did not appear happy with McIlroy’s comments, Mickelson again was surprised.

“They get along great, are you kidding me?’’ Mickelson said. “Rory is one of the nicest guys you can imagine. He’s one of the classiest guys out on tour. Tiger gets along with just about everybody — usually because he beats them, and he’s nice to them when he beats them. Rory is as classy a guy as there is. I’ve been paired with him a bunch, and I really enjoy playing with him.’’

McIlroy is the latest player whose comments annoyed Woods.

The most famous was Stephen Ames, who jokingly said he had a chance against Woods in the Match Play Championship, “especially where he’s hitting the ball.’’ Woods beat him in the first round, 9 and 8.

At the 2000 Presidents Cup, the caddie for Vijay Singh — Woods’s opponent in the singles match — wrote “Tiger Who?’’ on the back of his cap. Woods won the match, and later told that story by saying the score (2 and 1) was his best response. There also was the time Michael Campbell said he looked forward to taking on Woods at the Match Play, and when Woods stepped on the first tee, he said to Campbell, “I hear you want a piece of me.’’ Woods won, 5 and 4.

Whether Woods and McIlroy play each other is a matter of chance, as the Ryder Cup features a blind draw.

US captain Corey Pavin said it would violate the spirit of the matches for him and European captain Colin Montgomerie to arrange Woods and McIlroy to face each other in singles.

“But I think it would be fun for me to watch,’’ Pavin said.

No doubting his fire
Montgomerie began his Ryder Cup career at Kiawah Island in 1991, when he earned a halve in a match against Mark Calcavecchia.

He was paired with Harrington when they took down the Woods-Mickelson experiment at Oakland Hills. He never lost a singles match in his eight Ryder Cups.

Asked the highlight of his career, Montgomerie made it clear what the Ryder Cup means.

“No personal highlight at all in the Ryder Cup, not one,’’ he said. “This event — personally — this event has meant nothing to me, and still doesn’t, personally. But as a team, and as a European Tour, it means the world to me.’’

Montgomerie never pursued PGA Tour membership, and along with never winning a major, he is known for having never won an official tournament on American soil.

In the Ryder Cup, he has played on five winning teams.

“I had ample opportunity to go to America and join the US tour as a player when I was No. 1 in Europe,’’ Montgomerie said. “Never took it. Always supported the European Tour and the European cause, and that’s why I’m here, for Europe — for the European Tour, for the European cause and the European team.’’

Child’s play
Though he’s just 21 and a Ryder Cup rookie, Rickie Fowler already has some experience to draw on when the matches begin in earnest.

For one thing, he’s already won a cup on European soil — as a member of the winning US team at the Walker Cup three years ago at Royal County Down, when Fowler went 3-1 as the youngest player on the squad.

How much that will carry over is anyone’s guess. “I played well in Ireland, and it was a similar stage,’’ Fowler said. “But this is multiplied by 10, 20 or 30.’’

City slickers
The Americans wore navy blue rain suits that looked like they belonged to a basketball team — white stripes, with their names stitched on the back. Woods was the only player whose name was not on the suit . . . Bubba Watson says the last time he heard the national anthem played at a golf tournament was a national team for junior college players. “I was in South Africa and I got to carry the flag out to our ceremonies,’’ he said. “And we won by 32 shots, so we got to listen to the national anthem.’’ And yes, it made him cry . . . This will be the first Ryder Cup that doesn’t have a player from the home country. Rhys Davies is driving Montgomerie in his cart. The last Welshman to play in the Ryder Cup was Phillip Price, who was No. 119 in the world when he beat Mickelson at The Belfry in 2002.