They were chatting during a practice round at the Presidents Cup nine years ago in South Africa when the topic turned to the various rivals Nicklaus faced over a 25-year stretch of winning majors. Nicklaus told him that day, “Just make sure you’re always part of the conversation.”
“I always wanted to be part of that conversation,” Woods said after his pro-am round at Bethpage Black. “That’s the neat thing about what Jack had done. He crossed generations, and when you’re a part of that conversation for the better part of 25 years, that’s saying something. I was kind of hoping when I started off my career I’d be part of that conversation for that length of time.”
McIlroy, coming off an eight-shot win at Kiawah Island for his second major, considers it a compliment that he would be mentioned alongside Woods, and he is respectful of everything Woods has accomplished in 17 incomparable years on the PGA Tour.
But the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland can have a little fun.
Woods and McIlroy will be playing together the opening two rounds of The Barclays because the tour groups players based on their FedEx Cup standings during the playoffs. Woods is No. 1 for the fourth time in the six-year history of this series, while McIlroy is No. 3. Zach Johnson will be along for the ride.
“It really focuses you from the get-go, a pairing like that,” he said. “I feel every time I’ve played with Tiger, he’s sort of brought the best out of me. I really feel focused and obviously want to play well. I’m looking forward to it. I really enjoy his company. I know we’ll have a good time out there.”
About that point, he noticed Woods had come into the room and was waiting by the back door.
“I’m keeping him waiting here,” McIlroy said. “So I’ll stop talking about him.”
Not so fast.
About that singles match at the Ryder Cup everyone would love to see?