Too bad we missed dream Match Play final
The most appealing final of the Accenture Match Play championship can’t happen.
Either Lee Westwood, the third-ranked player in the world, and Rory McIlroy, who’s ranked second, can get to world No. 1 with a victory in the Tucson desert — but will face one another in the semifinals Sunday morning.
Westwood got by Scot Martin Laird on Saturday, while McIlroy beat the surprise of the week at Dove Mountain, Korean Sang-Moon Bae, in their quarterfinal match.
It’s a pity Westwood and McIlroy won’t play in the final because, with all due respect to the other players left — Hunter Mahan and Mark Wilson will face each other in the other semi before the two winners sqaure off for another 18 holes in Sunday’s final — this tournament could do with not just good play but a good storyline, too.
And, in their case, a good old-fashioned feud.
The two were once as close as brothers.
Now their relationship can, at best, be characterized as a sibling rivalry.
The first hint that things had gotten tense between the two came after McIlroy’s implosion at last year’s Masters.
Westwood came off the course, saw McIlroy’s horrendous tee shot off the 10th hole, and noted that he’s “always had a pull-hook in his bag” under pressure.
A few months’ later, at Congressional, Westwood was one of the very few who publicly questioned McIlroy’s US Open coronation, saying on the Saturday night that “you don’t know how Rory is going to do”.
“You don’t know how he’s going to deal with the big lead. He had a big lead in a major and didn’t deal with it well before,” he said.
"There’s pressure on him with regards to that.
“They don’t give trophies away on Fridays and Saturdays.”
The two then became embroiled in a Twitter war after McIlroy dumped their mutual manager, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, a decision Westwood called “bizarre.”
There were those in Chandler’s camp who blamed the defection on McIlroy’s girlfriend, Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Westwood on Twitter taunted McIlroy with being “half-Danish”.
He then touched on a very raw nerve, tweeting: “At least you made a choice on this one! What shall I be? Irish/British? British/Irish? Confused!”
McIlroy has long tried to steer clear of the poisonous sectarianism of his home in Northern Ireland by not siding with either the Irish or the British but maintaining that he’s Northern Irish.
He responded to Westwood with “at least I’m not English”.
Graeme McDowell has characterized the Westwood/McIlroy dynamic as “always having jabs to the jokes”.
Westwood, who’s hasn’t been behind once in three matches — despite never having made it to the third round in 12 previous attempts at this tournament — avoided McIlroy questions after dispatching the Tiger slayer, Nick Watney, 3 & 2 on Friday.
“There’s a danger if you’re looking too far ahead,” he said.
“I’m just happy to be looking for a different restaurant for Friday night, that’s where my sights are set.”
McIlroy, who took out Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, 3 & 1, in the third round, was more effusive.
“Lee is playing well at the minute, had a great chance to win in Dubai (which he failed to do) and for the most part has looked very strong this week,” he said.
McIlroy said he hadn’t played much with Westwood, apart from practice rounds where he and McDowell would take on Westwood and “his buddy” Darren Clarke.
He did make a point of noting, though, that he might have ended up on the winning end of those matches.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played that much with him in stroke play,” he said.
Their most high-profile head-to-head match up came at the 2009 Race to Dubai, when Westwood came out on top.
“I feel like I’m a completely different player than I was back then,” McIlroy, who’s still 22, said on Friday.
“A lot more experienced.”
I asked McIlroy whether he saw 2012 as a building year after breaking through at Congressional last year or whether he wanted to establish himself as golf’s next great star right away.
“Probably the latter,” he said.
“I feel like last year was a great stepping-stone for hopefully bigger and better things.”
But in the way of those bigger and better things will be the slimmed-down Westwood, who’s dedicated himself at 38 to regaining the No. 1 ranking that McIlroy so covets.