PARAMUS New Jersey (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy, the hottest golfer on the planet, is not thinking about taking the torch from Tiger Woods as the sport’s next dominant player, but the easy-going Northern Irishman says he has already sparred with Woods over a potential rivalry.
McIlroy, winner of the British Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship in his last three starts, spent a day earlier this week with fellow Nike spokesman Woods in the New York area.
The due were promoting some new irons and also appeared on a late-night talk show ahead of The Barclays, which opens the FedExCup playoffs starting on Thursday.
“It was good to catch up with him. I haven’t really seen him much for a few months really,” world number one McIlroy said on Wednesday about Woods, who has shut down his golf game after continued trouble with his back following surgery this year.
“It was good fun. It was a good day.”
McIlroy grew up idolising Woods, as did so many of the young golfers now on tour who watched the American amass 14 majors, and he feels it may be premature to write Woods off, despite his major title drought dating back to the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I know that he’s working his butt off to get back here and get back to where he wants to be,” said the 25-year-old McIlroy, who is a Masters title away from achieving a career grand slam.
“We talked about a few things and he’s telling me like, ‘I’m not going to let you win a green jacket next year,’ ... because he’s super competitive,” added McIlroy, who fell in behind Jack Nicklaus and Woods after his PGA triumph at Valhalla as the youngest player to have captured four major titles.
McIlroy said he shares the ultra-competitiveness of Woods, though he restricts it to golf and prefers to maintain a composed demeanor.
“I might not look it but I’m the exact same way. I’ve got a very competitive spirit but it would only be on a golf course. Like I’ll let you win in a game of pool. I don’t care about that,” he said.
“But golf, it’s my thing to be competitive at and it’s my thing to succeed in, so of course I’m really competitive and even if it doesn’t look it, on the inside I’m trying to beat those guys to death on the course.
“Tiger has just got a more competitive spirit, period. Like he’ll want to beat you at cards. He’ll want to beat you at anything you’re playing him against.
“I’m a little bit different in that way in that golf is my vehicle to be competitive in something in life, and that’s why I sort of put everything into that.”
McIlroy said he was ready to give his all in a push for the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus prize to the points leader after the Sep. 11-14 Tour Championship, the fourth and final event of the series.
“It would just be really gratifying to know that I finished the season off well and the way that it should be finished off,” he said.
Ridgewood Country Club, an A.W. Tillinghast design, should present a worthy test in launching the playoffs, winning praise from many in the 122-player field as a classic, tree-lined, heavily-bunkered parkland course with U.S. Open-style rough.
“It’s a great golf course,” said PGA Tour veteran Jim Furyk, who went on to win the 2010 FedExCup series despite being disqualified from The Barclays at Ridgewood for failing to make his pro-am tee time the day before the first round.
“I think it’s the best of the four we play,” he added, ranking it ahead of Bethpage Black, Liberty National and Plainfield.
The top 100 players on the points list advance to next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, with the leading 70 players qualifying for the BMW Championship which sends 30 players to the Tour Championship finale.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes