As Rory McIlroy addressed the media Wednesday, the tone changed in a heartbeat. A murmur reverberated through the audience. Tiger Woods had just walked in off the 18th hole at Bethpage Black.
Woods stood at the back of the room, listening intently as a reporter asked the 23-year-old McIlroy – the youngest player to win the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923 – who is the best player in the world.
“Sure, I feel like I’m the best and Tiger feels like he’s the best,” said McIlroy, eyeing Woods in the back of the room. “It’s really a hard one for me to come up here and say. Tiger has been the best player in the world for the last 15 years. Just that people are mentioning my name with the likes of him is a huge compliment.”
McIlory is the top-ranked golfer in the world. Woods, 36, has won 14 majors and 74 PGA events, including three this year. They will get a chance to measure one another up close this week, paired together in the first two rounds of The Barclays Tournament.
The First Round begins Thursday at 7:10 a.m. at Bethpage State Park. The PGA Tour stop is the first leg of the FedEx Cup, a four-tournament playoff with a $10 million payoff going to the points champion.
Woods has won at Bethpage Black before, taking the 2002 U.S. Open. As he worked his way through the course for Wednesday’s Pro-AM, it became clear Woods still generates more excitement than anyone in the field.
“I was always the youngest when I played against Vijay [Singh], Phil [Mickelson], Ernie [Els] and Goose [Retief Goosen],” Woods said. “We went at it for just over a decade. I was always the youngest one out of that group. Rory is considerably younger than I am, but this is another generation.”
Will Woods’ experience at Bethpage translate into a strong performance? It’s a stacked field and a new generation is fighting for recognition. It begins with McIlory.
The Barclays Tournament
Top 10: Players to Watch
Bethpage Black: Three Holes to Watch
First Round: Golfer pairings Thursday
Schedule: TV / Radio
Getting In: Tickets
Getting There: Parking l Road Closures l LIRR
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