Woods, McIlroy agree there's no intimidation factor

By Jason SobelSeptember 19, 2012, 5:11 pm

ATLANTA – It should be considered a testament to Greg Norman’s influence in the golf world that years after his relevance as a player has subsided, he still receives the E.F. Hutton treatment.

When he talks, people listen.

Even when he’s dead wrong.

And yes, the Shark’s inflammatory, headline-inducing comments this week concerning Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were absolutely off the mark.

“What I’m seeing is that Tiger’s really intimidated by Rory,” Norman told FoxSports.com. “When have you ever seen him intimidated by another player? Never. But I think he knows his time is up and that’s normal; these things tend to go in 15-year cycles. Jack (Nicklaus) took it from Arnold (Palmer). I took it from Jack, Tiger from me, and now it looks like Rory’s taking it from Tiger.”

First things first: With all due respect to Norman’s pedigree, the torch wasn’t exactly passed from the 18-time major champion directly to him. Leaving the links to Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros out of that chain of command was careless at best and disrespectful at worst. Let’s assume that in the casual flow of conversation it was the former instead of the latter.

That wasn’t the only thing he got wrong.

The assertion that Woods is intimidated by McIlroy after playing with him twice in the last three events and watching the youngster win three times since the beginning of last month is a poor choice of words. The very term implies grizzly staredowns being met with cowering fear, which is pretty much the exact opposite of their on-course interactions.

Witness the two in the heat of battle and you’ll find a pair of bosom buddies chatting, giggling and generally bromancing their way down the fairways – everything but walking arm-around-shoulder toward the greens.

If that’s intimidation, there’s something lost in translation.

Not surprisingly, neither Woods nor McIlroy were buying into Norman’s theory, both responding to the comments Wednesday with equal parts humor and antagonism.

“It's got to be the hair,” Tiger joked about his friend’s moptop ‘do.

Upon turning serious, he maintained that intimidation is a non-factor in this game.

“No one is the size of (Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis who is going to hit me coming over the middle, so this is a different kind of sport,” Woods said. “It's not like you go over the middle and some guy is 255 pounds and going to take your block off. This is about execution and going about your own business and see where it ends up at the end of the day. It's just the nature of our sport, which is different than some sports. Some individual sports, such as tennis, you actually can do that physically, because you're playing against somebody. Here no one is affecting any shots.”

McIlroy appeared incredulous at the insinuation that he could ever intimidate Woods.

The two-time major winner is many things, but beyond all he is honest to a fault. He doesn’t feign friendship with Tiger, just as he couldn’t feign any possible intimidation, even if it existed.

“How can I intimidate Tiger Woods?” McIlroy asked rhetorically with an exaggerated shrug. “I mean, the guy's got 70-whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. I mean, he's been the biggest thing ever in our sport. I mean, how could some little 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with a few wins come up and intimidate him? It's just not possible. I don't know where he got that from, but it's not true.”

As if we needed further proof, intimidated individuals don’t make jokes about it with those whom intimidate them, but that was exactly the case between Tiger and Rory, each of whom were needling the other about Norman’s comments.

“He's got a new nickname for me, actually,” McIlroy revealed with a smile. “He calls me The Intimidator.”

Perhaps this was simply a case of Norman confusing his verbiage.

There is no palpable intimidation between the two players, but as the charter members of their own Mutual Admiration Society, there is likely a healthy dose of mutual jealousy between them.

McIlroy’s jealousy is purely statistically based. He owns two major championships, which places him a dozen behind his golfing idol. If that number alone doesn’t make him – and every other person not named Jack Nicklaus who’s ever touched a golf club – jealous, then he’s in the wrong profession.

Woods’ jealousy is a bit more multi-layered. In Rory, he sees a player who has not only won a pair of major titles in the time since his last major, but one who triumphs in much the same manner he used to, lapping the field by eight strokes in each circumstance. Throw in the fact that McIlroy is 13 years his junior with two strong knees, a back that hasn’t yet turned creaky and yes, a full head of hair, and it’s only logical that there would be some enviousness on Tiger’s part.

Those aren’t the only reasons.

McIlroy has rapidly taken on the role of the golf world’s newest Golden Boy, a position previously held by Woods for so many years. While the latter has so often been awed and revered for his skill, though, the former is receiving adoration and adulation formerly reserved for the likes of Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson – and not many others in the game’s storied history.

Who wouldn’t want that type of treatment? Tiger certainly would, though it remains a credit to his character that he hasn’t sought to take it out on Rory, instead taking him under his wing and ushering him onto the promenade of golf’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The relationship between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy contains many different levels – from friendship to rivalry and trust to jealousy – but despite Greg Norman’s best efforts to argue otherwise, it doesn’t include any form of intimidation.

Just ask The Intimidator – and the guy who gave him the nickname.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.