David Goldman/Associated Press file photo
ATLANTA – With every week and every win, Rory McIlroy gets a new moniker. Two-time major champion. The world No. 1. Heir apparent. The latest nickname was courtesy of none other than Tiger Woods.
“He calls me ‘The Intimidator,’ McIlroy said Wednesday as he tried to stifle a laugh.
Woods never has had much of a rival during his 17 years on the PGA Tour, at least not for long. Now, he can’t escape the growing shadow of McIlroy, who comes into the Tour Championship as the undisputed No. 1 player – in the world ranking, the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour money list and every other important category.
What triggered his one-liner at East Lake were comments Greg Norman made in an interview with FoxSports.com.
“What I’m seeing is that Tiger’s really intimidated by Rory,” Norman said. “When have you ever seen him intimidated by another player? Never.”
For the longest time, Woods was said to have a two-shot advantage just by stepping on the first tee. He was the most prolific winner in golf, averaging about six wins a year and piling up 14 majors faster than anyone in history. The red shirt was blazing.
Now, the baton appears to have been passed over to McIlroy. He arrived at the Tour Championship having won three of his last four tournaments, starting with that record eight-shot victory at Kiawah Island in the PGA Championship for his second major. He won consecutive FedEx Cup playoff events in Boston and Indianapolis to stretch his lead in the world ranking and become the favorite to win at East Lake and capture the $10-million bonus.
It’s an intimidating record. McIlroy doesn’t see how that translates into Norman suggesting that he’s intimidating.
“No, how can I intimidate Tiger Woods?” he said. “The guy’s got 75 or 70 whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. He’s been the biggest thing ever in our sport. I mean, how can 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.”
There’s no room for intimidation on either side at the moment. They’ve been around each other too much lately.
When they tee off in the final pairing today, it will be the fifth time in the last four tournaments that Woods and McIlroy have played in the same group and the eighth time this year, including the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Woods and Norman never had much of a relationship, and Woods wasn’t about to mix words Wednesday with the Shark. Asked if he had seen Norman’s comments, he replied, “It’s got to be the hair, yeah.”