Rory McIlroy insists Europe would be “silly” to focus on beating a rejuvenated Tiger Woods as they look to maintain their brilliant home record and regain the Ryder Cup in Paris.
McIlroy was in the final group with Woods on Sunday as the 14-time major winner won his first title since 2013 and 80th on the PGA Tour in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
It was a win which reverberated around the sporting world given that Woods himself had reportedly told Jack Nicklaus “I’m done” in April 2017, before undergoing spinal fusion surgery in a last-ditch bid to save his career.
The following month’s DUI arrest only deepened the sense that Woods’ incredible career was over, but, after returning to action in November, his performances this season, including leading the Open with eight holes to play and finishing second in the US PGA, indicated that was certainly not the case.
Sunday’s win proved it beyond doubt, but Woods had a poor Ryder Cup record even at the peak of his powers and won just half a point from four matches in his last appearance at Medinah in 2012.
“This week he’s one of 12,” McIlroy said. “We’re not looking at any individuals. We’re just trying to beat the US team. It’s great what he did on Sunday. It was great for golf. It brings a lot of excitement to the game.
“I think to focus on one player is silly, especially when I might not even see him at any point this week because I mightn’t be on the course with him or play against him. We’re looking to beat the US team. We’re not looking to just beat Tiger Woods.”
Asked if there was an element of intimidation to playing alongside Woods on Sunday, McIlroy, who struggled to a closing 74, joked: “That East Lake rough was really tough, yeah. That was the most intimidating part about it.
“I started hitting a few drives left and right early and I didn’t actually have quite a good view from the trees on Sunday. I couldn’t really see what was happening too much.”
Woods has tasted victory just once in seven Ryder Cup appearances as a player, at Brookline in 1999, but was a vice-captain when the United States won 17-11 at Hazeltine.
And McIlroy admits that defeat, the first he had experienced in the contest, has been on his mind ever since the home team’s celebrations began.
“I’ve been excited for this for basically since the last day in Hazeltine when we weren’t the ones spraying champagne for a change,” the 29-year-old said.
“It doesn’t seem that it’s been that long or this is going to be my fifth Ryder Cup, but they have all been wonderful experiences for different reasons and I’m sure this time will be no different.
“Going into my first Ryder Cup I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I still thought it was this team event that really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. I was more concerned about individual titles and all that.
“Once I got on to that first tee at Celtic Manor on Friday morning, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a little different than I expected’.”
McIlroy has played in every possible session in his four Ryder Cup appearances to date and is likely to play five times in Paris, although he concedes that he “hit a wall” in his highly-charged singles loss to Patrick Reed at Hazeltine.
“I could play [at a high level] for nine holes and then it suddenly hit me,” McIlroy said. “It sort of reached its crescendo on the eighth green, and the last 10 holes weren’t quite as good.
“I look back at the last Ryder Cup and it wasn’t just Sunday. It was Friday and Saturday. I’m surprised I had a voice left at the end of the week. It looked tiring to have to play golf like that for three days.
“So I think I learnt a lot from that. It’s good to get excited, but at the same time, if I need to be called upon to play a late match on Sunday or whatever it is, I want to have all my energy in reserve so that I can give everything for 18 holes because I did hit a wall that back nine on Sunday and it cost me.”