MEDINAH, Ill. Might we see the head-to-head duel between the top two players in the world, the matchup just about everyone in the golf world wants to see, likely even the players themselves and their teammates?
If the team captains are to be believed, a pairing of Tiger Woods vs. Rory McIlroy in the 39th Ryder Cup’s Sunday singles matches will have to take place by happenstance.
Unlike the Presidents Cup, in which captains alternate in selecting teams and players that will compete against each other, captains’ selections are made independently.
U.S. team captain Davis Love III said he doesn’t intend to conspire with European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal to set up the matchup.
“I’m sure it’s not in the captains’ agreement that we don’t do that, but I’m sure it’s against the spirit of it,” Love said. “It would be neat to sit up here and match them up. It would be pretty good theater to match groups, and it would be fun. “But since we can’t do that and since I doubt that [it’s ever been done], I definitely don’t want to be the first one to go cross over into their room and start rigging pairings, so I would say no.
“But it would be fun to watch, that’s for sure.”
Woods and McIlroy have become chummy while paired together in several recent rounds on the PGA Tour. But the tenor of the round will be very different if the two are pitted mano a mano at Medinah Country Club with the Ryder Cup possibly in the balance on Sunday.
McIlroy stoked the fire last month in a press conference before the Barclays when he said – with Woods in the back of the interview room awaiting his turn in front of the microphone – that “I’d love Tiger to go out first and kick his [butt].”
When asked shortly thereafter if he was ready for his butt-whoopin, Woods simply replied, “No.”
If the captains follow Twitter, there’s a grassroots campaign to have both Woods and McIlroy sent out for the ninth match. It will be interesting to see if either captain or both captains pencil them in at No. 9.
“Sunday will be what will be,” Olazabal said. “You know, I’m not expecting anything at this particular time. . . . I know you’re eager to see that match, but I think the Ryder Cup is more important than that single match.”
Mystery of 15
Coming at or near the end of many matches, the par-4 15th hole could very well be a pivotal hole, and it’s the most intriguing hole at Medinah.
The hole is 391 yards from the back tee, but PGA of America managing director of championships and business development Kerry Haigh – without input from Love, he says – is expected to use a forward tee for one or more sessions that will make the green drivable and present players with a risk-reward decision. “I think you’ll probably see a variety of things at 15,” Love said. “It’s different in different formats.”
The hole has been rebuilt since the 2006 PGA Championship was held at Medinah to make it more compelling. It has water running up the right side to the green, which is also protected by a deep bunker to its back left and deep grass chipping swale back right.
“I plan on being pretty aggressive on that one,” Dustin Johnson said. “Unless it’s into the wind, I’m probably going to hit a 3-wood. I’m just trying to get it just short of front edge or right on the front edge, and it all depends on where the flag is, too. The flags on the left are pretty tough, especially if you’re going for it, if you miss it left, they’re hard to get at. It just all depends on how they set the hole up.”
Home sweet home?
Luke Donald may be playing for Europe this week, but he’s more at home in Chicago than any of the 12 American players.
Donald is a Northwestern graduate who lives year-round in The Windy City. His home is about 25 miles from Medinah Country Club. The Englishman would be a fan favorite in possibly any other tournament in his new hometown.
“Hopefully I can garner a little bit of the support from the crowd because of that and turn that into a slight advantage for Team Europe,” said Donald, who married an American woman and has two children. “But it is a unique experience for me.”
Donald won the NCAA title as a junior and was a three-time All-American at Northwestern. He has no qualms representing Europe this week.
“I always consider myself British through and through,” Donald said. “I’ve obviously reaped the benefits of going through the college system over here, really helped me with my golf, and I enjoy living here and I feel very comfortable here. But I don’t think that changes how you feel about where you grew up.”
With the proliferation of social media websites, players, wives and other representatives of the competing teams no longer have to speak to the media to say something inflammatory. They can simply post it on Facebook or Twitter.
While it doesn’t appear that anyone has posted anything controversial leading up to the matches, there’s still time during the competition. Neither team captain has banned players from tweeting.
“I’m not banning any member of the team to use it,” Olazabal said. “What I’ve said to them is that they have to be careful on what they say, how they say it and when they say it. I’m sure that any comments that are made on Twitter are not intended in a bad way, but if you take the sentence out of the context, it might look completely different. In that regard, the boys need to be a little bit cautious about it.”
Ping pong king
Nearly as hotly contested as the matches inside the ropes this week are intrasquad table tennis matches in the respective hotel team rooms. Table tennis matches have become a tradition at Ryder Cups, and the U.S. team room has three tables. Several players have their own paddles.
The U.S. competition is apparently no contest this year as Matt Kuchar has dominated. He honed his game by playing almost nightly growing up against his father in the family’s garage.
“It’s clear that Kuch is the best,” Love said. “They’re comparing how many points they got off of Kuch: ‘I got 12, I got 14.’ They can’t beat him, it’s just a matter of how close you came.”
Dustin Johnson said he’s in the middle of the pack on the team in table tennis acumen, definitely behind Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.