Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Jose Maria.
Yeah, we know -- Ryder Cup pairings are on a need-to-know basis, determined by blind draws after each captain fills out his top secret lineup. But with everyone (save, perhaps, one whiny Scottish killjoy ) -- including the players -- hoping for one more official Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy scrap in 2012, we’re hoping captains Love III and Olazabal make whatever back-room deals they must to guarantee the two amigos go mano a mano at Medinah in a Sunday singles showdown.
For sure, Nos. 1 and 2 are on board with reprising their Butch and Sundance routine before they take the show on the road (the pair will tee it up in China next month in a one-day exhibition). McIlroy, who came up short in four of the duo’s five toe-to-toe duels during the FedEx Cup series, but went on to win two of those events, suggested recently he would put in a good word with his skipper.
"It would be great fun to be part of," McIlroy told The Times of the U.K. earlier this month. "The atmosphere would be absolutely incredible. I might say to Tiger, 'I'll have a word with Jose, you have a word with Davis, and I'll see you on the first tee.’”
Woods, who has acknowledged he must step up his game if he hoped to be a member of just his second victorious Ryder Cup team in seven starts, would like to put it all on the line against the world’s top player.
“That would be fun,” he said prior to last week’s Tour Championship.
No doubt, along with the bald and short jokes the two taunt each other with, Woods would also fancy being the guy to bag the big game.
“It’s part of being ranked No. 1,” he said earlier this week about McIlroy’s status as the new Tiger. “It’s part of winning major championships. You’re always going to want to try and take out their best player, and that’s just part of the deal. That’s a fun challenge. I certainly have relished it over the years, and I’m sure he’s going to relish it this week.”
Within the cozy confines of Team Euro, McIlroy backed off his earlier zeal for taking on Tiger and tried to quell talk of targets by pointing out that defending Europe’s honor was a group endeavor. Indeed, despite Michael Jordan’s presence on the opposition’s sideline, Woods and his NBA Hall of Fame pal would not be double-teaming him in the low post, and the 23-year-old Northern Irishman stuck to the script, insisting he was just one of the boys.
"This week I'm not the Number One player in the world," McIlroy said. "I'm one person in a 12-man team and that's it. It's a team effort. There are 12 guys striving towards the same goal. I'm just part of that."
He added, "I don't think I have a bulls eye on my back. I think it's a huge compliment that people are saying they want to beat me....Whoever wants to take me on, they can take me on."
The order of play was irrelevant, McIlroy claimed, as long as he won his matches.
"I just want to go out and get a point for the team and whether that's going out first or fourth or in the middle, it really doesn't make a difference to me and it doesn't make a difference who I play. I'm going to go out there and give it my best."
Nice try, Rory. The Americans believe their chances to retrieve the cup increase exponentially if they can topple the two-time major champ -- much as the Europeans’ game plan has been since 1997 to throttle the Americans by stopping Woods. Jim Furyk termed McIlroy “obviously a marked man,” and former U.S. captain Paul Azinger stated that knocking off the two-time major champ, who has won three events in his last five starts, was critical for the U.S. to reign supreme.
Whether the golf world gets its wish will be up to the fates or some chicanery, but Love, for one, would enjoy witnessing the two superstars squaring off on Sunday. A Tiger-Rory duel would be “fun to watch, that’s for sure,” he said on Wednesday.
"I’m sure its not in the Captain’s agreement that we don’t [ensure a certain pairing on Sunday], but I’m sure it’s against the spirit of it,” Love added. “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...I definitely don't want to be the first one to go cross over into their room and start rigging pairings.”
Olazabal was not ready to hop on the bandwagon, observing that the early matches would determine what happened down the road.
“Sunday will be what will be,” he said Wednesday. “I know that all of you are very eager to see that match played, but we will have to wait and see what happens, and first of all, how the matches develop the next few days. Obviously Friday and Saturday are going to be crucial to know what we're going to be doing on Sunday.
“We are guessing here, and my guess is as good as yours,” Olazabal said, with no apparent tongue in cheek. “And the only thing I can say is that I know you're eager to see that match, but I think the Ryder Cup is more important than that single match.”
For the record, Woods, who