Former friends Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood will face off Sunday morning

February 26, 2012

MARANA, Arizona — Set your alarm clocks, clear away the breakfast table, cancel your Sunday morning jog in the park. The big grudge match is on: Mark Wilson versus Hunter Mahan.

Just kidding.

With all due respect to the all-American semifinal, the only match anyone is talking about is Rory McIlroy versus Lee Westwood. It’s World No. 2 versus No. 3, and the winner has a chance to be crowned the new World No. 1.

Oh, and it’s personal.

Choose you weapon, gentlemen, please, for the Gunfight at the UK Corral. Pistols at dawn (7:20 a.m. local time).

“It’s the match I wanted," McIlroy said after seeing off Sang-Moon Bae, 3 and 2. "It’s the match everybody else wanted. And I look forward to seeing him on the first tee.”

There has been a frosty relationship bubbling beneath the surface between McIlroy and Westwood ever since last year’s Masters. While McIlroy was suffering his Augusta Sunday meltdown, Westwood, some thought ungraciously, was not shy in pointing out that McIlroy had a hook in his locker when he came under pressure. There has also been a series of thinly veiled snide remarks aimed at each other on Twitter that they both laugh off as mere banter.

Many saw their clash of egos as one of the main reasons McIlroy left Chubby Chandler’s stable earlier this year, a decision Chandler client Westwood called "bizarre."

McIlroy did his best on Saturday to play down any suggestion that this will be a revenge match, but his body language suggested he could barely wait to bring it on. Perhaps the championship committee can arrange to blast some Ennio Morricone music out of the PA system when the players meet on the first tee.

All eyes, and TV cameras, will be watching “the handshake.” Will they do their utmost to appear Ryder Cup pals? Or will the truth of their relationship be revealed in the warmth of each other’s greeting?

“We obviously don’t spend as much time together as we used to,” McIlroy said. “He is obviously a rival of mine on the golf course … the guy you feel you have to beat to win, but it’s totally fine. There’s no ill feeling between me and him or Chubby.”

Westwood, who booked his place for this Duel in the Desert by beating Scotland’s Martin Laird, 4 and 2, also said that everything is fine and dandy between him and McIlroy.

"There’s nothing strained about the relationship between the two of us,” he said. But Westwood didn’t stop there. He suggested there is no love lost between Chandler's International Sports Management agency and McIlroy's new representatives, the Dublin-based Horizon group.

“Rory doesn’t want to spend time with the people who manage me. And I don’t want to spend time with the people who manage Rory,” he said.


One of them will have the chance to advance to the final and victory there will take them to World No. 1. Westwood, of course, has already been at the summit, but for McIlroy it is uncharted territory.

“The chance to go to No.1 gives the match a little bit of extra spice and edge,” McIlroy said.

As if there weren’t enough already.