CASARES, Spain — Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will put aside their friendship as the Northern Irishmen go head-to-head on Saturday at the Volvo World Match Play Championship. The Ulstermen are constant practice partners on tour, but this will be the first time they have gone up against each other in competition.
“Rory beats the crap out of me every time we play together,” McDowell said. “He generally takes the money. I’m sure he’ll expect to beat me. It’s always hard to play a friend under the gun, and there will be a certain amount of bragging rights at stake, too. There will be a bit of banter but once the gun goes, we’ll leave the pleasantries aside and get down to business. You need to have that little bit of edge, that killer instinct no matter who you are playing. Even if it’s your best friend. Bring it on!”
McIlroy, too, was looking forward to the contest.
“I’m sure we’ll chat a little bit, and it will be quite a friendly game,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re here to try to win a tournament. I need to get through him. That’s the number one thing on my mind.”
Lee Westwood versus Ian Poulter is another meaty match-up of Ryder Cup teammates.
“Ian won the World Match Play Championship at Tucson last year, so he’s a good match player,” Westwood said. “He’s one of those players that gets up-and-down a lot and makes quite a few putts. That can irritate you after a while so you just have to be patient.”
They, like the Northern Irishmen, have only previously played match play against each other in practice rounds.
“For $100 here and there,” Westwood said. “I won it at Augusta the last time we played. You remember all the money you take of Ian because it’s hard to get money out of him,” Westwood said grinning.
The Englishmen are prolific at winding each other up on Twitter, too, but the World No. 1 said there would be no such banter before their match. Indeed Westwood said he is considering closing his Twitter account due to the abuse he is getting.
“Some people don’t know the difference between banter and abuse,” he said. “It’s social media, not social slagging. It’s losing its meaning with the sort of stuff that’s gone on recently. We all get that from the odd idiot. It’s just pathetic.”
McDowell, too, suggested that perhaps the novelty is wearing thin.
“All some people want to do is abuse celebrities and sportsmen just to get a response. Looking for their 30 seconds of fame. I just block them if I get abuse,” he said. “It’s just the 3 percent that are trash. I think they’re called ‘trolls’ on Twitter. It’s not nice. Paul Lawrie told me he closed his account because of abuse and I was on a flight with Ian Poulter where he got quite upset with the abuse he was getting. I’ve bitten a few times and told people to get a life.”
But none of the golfers has stooped to challenge an abuser to a fight, which Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney did recently. Just 3 percent doesn’t sound like many people, but Poulter has 1.2 million followers. It was perhaps inevitable that all this Twitter banter would end in tears.
All five of the world’s top six at Finca Cortesin on Spain’s Costa del Sol made it through to the knockout stages. Joining McDowell, McIlroy and Westwood were Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald. McDowell had to dig deep on Friday to hold off a comeback from Jhonattan Vegas. The Venezuelan beat British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen by 1 hole on Friday morning, but he ran out of gas and holes to lose by the same score to the U.S. Open champion, having been 3 down at the turn.
Vegas is 6’2, 225 lbs. and drives the ball a country mile, but he takes his time getting to his next shot. Somebody should tell him to get a move on. Somebody big. McDowell frequently found himself quick-marching way ahead of his opponent. Walking up the 8th fairway there was 100 yards between them as they approached the green. Gamesmanship by both, perhaps, to throw the other off his rhythm. Vegas qualified for the final 16 courtesy of that victory over Oosthuizen. His next opponent is Belgium’s Niclas Colsearts.
The only American in the field, Ryan Moore, was eliminated by Ross Fisher, who all but turned Moore’s beard gray by winning three of the last four holes. Fisher has a clash with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who won a three-man sudden death playoff to send Miguel Angel Jimenez home and Johan Edfors into Luke Donald’s path.
In the other matches, Francesco Molinari plays Aaron Baddeley; Alvaro Quiros takes on 19-year-old Korean Seung-yul Noh; and World No. 3 Martin Kaymer has again snuck under the radar to meet up with Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen.