It may be one of the greatest duels in golf history.
In boxing terms, the heavyweight title fight: The Thrillah at Medinah, if you will.
But, more likely, it may be the most-anticipated match that never happens.
Fans have been treated to several weeks of two great golfers, one on the upswing and one arguably on the downswing of their storied careers, in the resurgent FedEx Cup Playoffs. And wouldn’t it be wonderful for it all to culminate at the Ryder Cup, one battling for the Stars and Stripes of the American side, the other under the hated (for three days, anyway) European banner?
But don’t count on the Ryder Cup coming down to Tiger Woods versus Rory McIlroy in Sunday singles, folks.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the Presidents Cup, where matches can be staged — remember the great tilt between Woods and Mike Weir in the 2007 edition, when the plucky Canadian made a loss by the International side a win for his country on home soil at Royal Montreal? Who cares, or even remembers, that the United States walloped the Internationals 191/2 to 141/2? All anyone in Canada cared about was THE story, and they got it when Gary Player named Weir a somewhat controversial captain’s pick and then conspired with American captain Jack Nicklaus to send him out Sunday against the most powerful player in golf, setting the stage for his heroic 1-up victory.
Oh, how great a forced battle like that would be next Sunday. But if McIlroy and Woods do meet in singles, it would be by happenstance, or some clandestine backroom dealing between captains Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal to somehow rig the blind draw.
“They don’t do that, they just put the names in a hat and it’s how they fall,” says 2002 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange. “How they do this in the first two days of teams, and the singles, is that I’ll put in my lineup, one through 12, and (the European captain) puts in his lineup, one through 12, and it’s however they just match up.
“There’s a very slight chance (Woods and McIlroy) could play each other, but it’s not very likely.”
All the hoopla surrounding the 36-year-old Woods and his 23-year-old foil over the past month has been fun, Strange admits, and it has done nothing but hype the Ryder Cup by getting people talking about a possible meeting at Medinah.
“It could all be for naught. They might not actually play each other at all in these three days,” Strange says. “The speculation is there and that’s a good thing.
“You know, I think it’s fun for all of us to talk about, to watch, to critique when they play against each other like they are doing. And I will say this about the FedEx Cup: It has done exactly what it’s supposed to do. It has put these top players playing against each other in September, October.
“Gosh, three weeks in a row we’ve had Tiger and Rory playing against each other. That might be a little bit of an overkill, but it’s fun to watch.”
The media attention and the playing week in and week out, with McIlroy in contention any given Sunday and Tiger usually hanging around too, brings up the possibility of overkill for the players as well.
These guys have been going at it hard since the PGA Championship.
Could golf’s Big Two be burned out by the time they get to the FedEx Cup? Some players and pundits think playing too much can have ill effects on a golf game, but Strange says he thinks the opposite will be true in this case.
“I think there’s the slight chance of (burnout), but more importantly, I like them playing a lot because up until this FedEx Cup — and I don’t want to give that too much credit — most of these top players shut it down after the World Series and we have seen them come to Ryder Cups not at the top of their games because they just hadn’t played that often.
“At least they’re going to be competitively sharp and there will be no excuses on either side, saying, ‘Well, I haven’t played that much.’ ”
Having been there as a player five times, Strange knows it’s not tough to get motivated for the Ryder Cup.
“They have played a lot, yes. Could they be tired? Absolutely. But if there’s an event you do get fired up for, if there’s an event your adrenaline does carry you through the week, it’s the Ryder Cup, because it’s unlike anything else. Certainly, there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of different types of pressure. You have teammates, you have fans and friends and country and everything to play for. More importantly, you have your teammates to keep you going.
“They could be a little tired but I think it’s a good thing.”
Yes, this competition is all about team. It’s not just Woods and McIlroy. There are 22 other players involved and no single player is bigger than the team, supposedly. Heck, neither Woods (13-14-2) nor McIlroy (1-1-2) sport a winning record in Ryder Cup competition.
Euros Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia come in boasting great records of 16-11-6 and 14-6-4, while the Americans with the best winning percentages are Zack Johnson and Steve Stricker (both 3-3-1).
There are all kinds of great players and many of them have been playing well of late, but everyone is pulling for that one marquee matchup.