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McIlroy & Westwood a rivalry with real bite

ESPN staff
February 29, 2012

It's the truth everyone can see but no-one is prepared to admit: Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy just don't like each other.

Maybe they never did. Maybe they just 'co-existed' while under the same management company to make life easier for one another and everyone around them.

Whatever the case, they aren't keen on one another now. Despite their protestations to the contrary, the pair could barely look at each other - let alone share conversation - in the moments before, during and after their semi-final match at last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Their words offered one version of events, their actions quite another. Both may have acted like their was no problem - or, at least, if there was a problem it wasn't on their side - but neither made an attempt to offer an olive branch during a contest that saw McIlroy eventually emerge a 3&1 victor.

"We don't spend as much time together as we did when we were in the same management group, but that's understandable," Westwood claimed ahead of their match. "Rory doesn't want to spend time with the people that manage me, and I don't want to spend time with the people that manage Rory.

"But there's nothing strained about the relationship between the two of us. It's still the same as it was."

"It's okay. It's fine," McIlroy concurred, although again less than effusively. "We definitely don't spend as much time together as we used to, but it's totally fine. He's obviously a rival of mine on the golf course ... he's one of the best players in the world and a great ball striker.

"It's totally fine. There's no ill feeling between me and him or Chubby or anyone. It's all been very, very positive."

That isn't strictly true, however. Ignoring the somewhat passive-aggressive tone of much of what both men said, if everything remained so rosy then how come Westwood wasn't willing to give his opponent too much credit for what was a thoroughly deserved win, that involved coming back from a start that saw him lose three of his opening four holes?

"I got off to a nice start, got three up early," the Englishman said. "I had a bad break on five, with the second shot on the flier. But then Rory holed a couple of nice putts on top of me.

"Going down 11, I thought, was a big turning point when Rory hit his second shot down the right, bounced a couple of times on the cart path and could have gone out of bounds in a bush. It ends up perfect, and I have to hole from 12 feet for half. That sort of thing can change a match."

McIlroy, for his part, seemed particular eager to stress the importance of his match with Westwood (after the event), seeming to blame it for his defeat to Hunter Mahan in the final later on Sunday.

"Yeah, it probably did," McIlroy said, when asked if the semi-final efforts had cost him the final. "I think, and this is no disrespect to the other two guys in the other semi-finals, Hunter and Mark, but it was almost like to me it was my final in a way.

"I really wanted to … that was the one I wanted all week and I got. And that's what I got myself up for."

Major Woods?

  • A leaked excerpt from Hank Haney's forthcoming book about his time as Tiger Woods' swing coach suggests the American briefly considered leaving his career behind to pursue a different type of major. He wanted to become a Navy SEAL.
  • "Tiger was seriously considering becoming a Navy SEAL," Haney writes. "I didn't know how he'd go about it, but when he talked about it, it was clear he had a plan ... I thought, wow, here is Tiger Woods, greatest athlete on the planet, maybe the greatest athlete ever, right in the middle of his prime, basically ready to leave it all behind for a military life."
  • The veracity of the claim is hard to prove - Tiger himself is unlikely to give more than a brush-off answer to any questions about it - but it remains an interesting suggestion. Some have portrayed the idea as an example of Woods' desire to serve his country (there is also a family link - after all his beloved father served in Vietnam), but there is another side to it. Maybe Tiger - pushed down this path since birth - didn't really want to continue being a world-class golfer, with all the constrictions of his life it entails?

McIlroy claims he and Westwood still have a positive relationship - yet beating him was more important than becoming the youngest ever world No. 1, let alone the youngest person to win a World Golf Championship event?

Please. McIlroy clearly isn't keen on Westwood. Westwood is hardly much better about hiding his ill feeling towards the Northern Irishman who has already surpassed his standing within the game (One of his throwaway lines, "That's the trouble with kids nowadays, they think they're always right, don't they?", had the same condescending tone so of his tweets about McIlroy exhibit).

This is a rivalry. These are two men that want to beat each other on the course to prove a point off it. We may never know what that point may be - but ultimately that isn't the important point.

"I hope myself and Lee have a lot of battles in the next few years," McIlroy noted. "I think it would be great. I was really… I was looking forward to getting out there and going head to head because in my mind he is obviously one of the best players in the world.

"He had that little stretch in the mid 2000s he wasn't playing that great. But in 1999, 2000 and 2001, he's been a great player for a long time. Yeah, of course, it was nice to beat him, but there's going to be times where he's going to beat me and I'm going to beat him.

"It was good [to] get one win over him under my belt."

With both so well adept at the veiled barbs and mealy-mouthed quarts of praise, both can land blows in the press. It's on the course where it really matters. McIlroy has the major; McIlroy has the latest match play victory.

Westwood now has to respond. Game on.

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