Atlanta: Rory McIlroy has unquestionably overshadowed Tiger Woods on the 2012 PGA Tour but the Northern Irish world number one laughs at suggestions that he now intimidates the American, a 14-times major winner.
“He’s (Tiger’s) got a new nickname for me, actually. He calls me ‘The Intimidator’,” a smiling McIlroy jested as he spoke to reporters on Wednesday while preparing for this week’s Tour Championship.
“No. How can I intimidate Tiger Woods? I mean, the guy’s got 75 or whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. He’s been the biggest thing ever in our sport.
“How could 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.”
Former world number one Greg Norman of Australia had sparked the debate earlier this week when he told FoxSports.com that Woods had effectively handed over the baton to McIlroy as the game’s leading player.
“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.
“But I think he knows his time’s up and that’s normal; these things tend to go in 15-year cycles. Jack (Nicklaus) took it (the baton) from Arnold (Palmer). I took it from Jack, Tiger from me and now it looks like Rory’s taking it from Tiger.”
Woods also resorted to humour when asked about Norman’s “intimidation” comments.
“It’s got to be the hair,” the former world number one grinned, referring to the mop-haired Northern Irishman.
Asked whether he had ever been intimidated by any other golfer, Woods replied: “No. No one is the size of (American football linebacker) Ray Lewis who is going to hit me coming over the middle.
“This is a different kind of sport. We go out there and we play our own game, and see where it falls at the end of the day. This is about execution and going about your own business. Here no one is affecting any shots.”
While Woods has won three times on the 2012 PGA Tour, the 36-year-old American has not won a major since the 2008 US Open. McIlroy, in contrast, has triumphed four times this season, including his second major title at last month’s PGA Championship.
The Northern Irishman will be seeking a fourth victory in just five starts when he tees off in Thursday’s opening round at East Lake Golf Club and says he has never produced a similarly dominant run of form.
“It’s been a great stretch,” McIlroy said. “To win three of my last four events, a major championship in there and two playoff events with some of the strongest fields of the year, it’s been great.
“Hopefully I can keep it going. If not, then hopefully I’ll have more stretches like this in my career.”
McIlroy underlined his superstar credentials with a stunning victory in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island where he triumphed by eight shots.
Winning this week’s Tour Championship, where he would also clinch FedExCup playoff honours and the bonus of $10 million (Dh36.7 million), would add extra gloss to a superb 2012 campaign.
“It would just cap off a great year,” McIlroy said. “It’s hard to compare this (the playoffs) to a major championship because it’s a year-long thing and it’s about being consistent.
“You have to play well at the right time like I have the last couple of weeks. It would be nice to have something to recognise that you have played the best golf the whole way throughout the year.”
Only 30 players are competing at East Lake this week in the final event of the PGA Tour’s regular season. Though McIlroy could secure FedExCup honours by finishing as low as 29th, he has set his sights on victory.
“If I win (the Tour Championship), I win (the FedExCup),” he said. “That’s the mindset I’m coming in with. I feel like I’m playing well enough to win. I know if I do that, everything else takes care of itself.”