Tue Sep 28 06:10pm EDT
Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.
After all that's happened to Tiger Woods in the last year, after the Escalade and the fire hydrant and the "transgressions" and the apologies and the tantrums and the divorce and the godawful play, we may have lost sight of an important fact: It's not that long ago that Woods was the best golfer on the planet, bar none. And thus, it may not be the wisest move, tactically speaking, for his competitors to get him riled up again.
Later this week, Woods and the 11 other best golfers of the United States will challenge their European counterparts in the Ryder Cup, a biennial tournament that's far closer in atmosphere to an SEC football game than, say, the Masters. The competition is cutthroat, the galleries are raucous, and there's actually trash-talking. No kidding. In golf.
Rory McIlroy, the Irish wunderkind, kicked off the verbal sparring a few weeks ago when he told the BBC he "would love to face" Tiger one-on-one in the Ryder Cup. "Unless his game rapidly improves," McIlroy said, "I think anyone in the European team would fancy their chances against him."
Fancy this, Mr. McIlroy: Woods heard your challenge. When asked at a press conference about McIlroy's comment that he'd love to face Woods one-on-one, Tiger leaned forward and offered a terse reply:
Not bad. Not quite an instant classic like Ivan Drago's "I must break you" from Rocky IV, but it'll do for golf's purposes.
Woods has obviously known about McIlroy's comments for several weeks -- there was a rumor going around a tournament a couple weeks back that Woods told McIlroy "careful what you wish for" -- but, as always, Woods only speaks publicly when he absolutely has to.
The U.S. and European teams will play two days of team golf for 36 holes on Friday and Saturday. (The Friday rounds will take place during the morning in the United States; if you're at work, be sure to bookmark Yahoo! Sports' Devil Ball Golf and follow our live chat.) The two teams only play head-to-head singles matches on Sunday. Even that's a blind draw, so McIlroy only has a one-in-12 chance of facing Woods.
But the golf gods have a way of making these things work out for the best, so don't be surprised to see Woods and McIlroy head to head. And if that happens, save a prayer for McIlroy, whose mouth may have written a check his scorecard can't cash.