McIlroy plans to tame Tiger
They share the same initials, TW. Both went to Stanford University and count an iconic US Open victory at Pebble Beach among the many Majors they have won.
Yet a cold and stony silence separated Tiger Woods and Tom Watson atop the so-called Cliffs of Doom when the two most talismanic figures for this year's US Open were caught in a lengthy log-jam on the 10th tee during practice for today's first round.
Watson, 60, had made these feelings plain about Tiger's persistent cursing and club-throwing in a series of media interviews last January, saying Woods would need to clean up his act whenever he returned to the fairways and show more humility to the public.
While Woods humbly acknowledged last April at Augusta the need to mend some of his old ways, genuine humility might have persuaded him to break the ice with Watson on the 10th tee, shake his hand and, heaven forbid, concede the older man had been right in what he'd said.
Yet some things don't change. Tiger Woods doesn't do self-doubt or ever back down.
Nobody expects Tiger to recapture the glories of his mould-breaking 2000 US Open victory at Pebble Beach but simply winning a Major in a more-usual way is beyond him right now.
Ironically, Watson probably is better equipped now to answer the questions posed by this very special golf course, though Old Tom is likely to face another reality check on that 10th tee today as he greets his playing companions in the first round, Ryo Ishikawa, 18, and Rory McIlroy, 21.
“I'm sure he'll be feeling pretty old when he get on the tee,” McIlroy suggested impishly, quickly adding that Watson “nearly won last year's British Open at Turnberry and if he plays as well this week he's got a great chance.”
There's sound logic behind McIlroy's words. Though it's been extended to 7040 yards for this year's tournament, Pebble Beach is short by recent US Open standards and is playing hard and fast right now.
McIlroy is hoping for still weather to allow him hit high and parachute his ball onto those greens. Watson wants ocean breezes to blow and the older man's prayers are more likely to be answered.
Many feel that McIlroy is destined to taste Major success but they will need to be patient.
Asked how close he was to winning a major championship, McIlroy said: “I hope I'm not too far, I probably would be more comfortable answering that question if I had a few more wins under my belt.
“I've got to be going into this tournament thinking that I can win, that I have a chance to win.
“I feel as if my game's in pretty good shape and if I can get myself
into position going into the weekend I should have a good chance.
“But maybe in a couple of years I'll hopefully be a bit more advanced in my career to say, ‘yes, I think it's time that I'm ready to win a major’.”
Woods, meanwhile, will do well to come out on top in his three-ball over the first 36 holes. He plays with last Sunday's St Jude Classic winner Lee Westwood and Ernie Els.
McIlroy and fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell are the most likely contenders among the record five Irish raiders, which includes US Open debutants Gareth Maybin and 19-year-old amateur Kevin Phelan from Waterford.