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.
“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.