By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
MEDINAH, Ill. -- Rory McIlroy was on-point in making his point.
The two-time major champ may be a marked man -- those were Jim Furyk's words last week -- in the U.S. camp but on the European Team the affable 23-year-old steadfastly maintains that he is just one of the guys.
"This week I'm not the No. 1 player in the world," he said. "I'm one person in a 12-man team and that's it. It's a team effort. There's 12 guys all striving towards the same goal. I'm part of that."
Still, no one can overlook the way McIlroy is playing as the opening tee shots in the Ryder Cup approach. He's won three times in his last five starts, including a dominating eight-stroke victory at the PGA Championship and the middle two events in the FedExCup Playoffs.
"Even though he didn't win the FedExCup, the way he's played the last few months, he's been outstanding," European Captain Jose-Maria Olazabal said. "I would say that he is at this moment very close to how good Tiger was at that stretch of time between '99 and 2002. … He's full of confidence. He's got the whole game.”
The accolades are universal on both sides. Prior to last week's TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, Furyk said that McIlroy is "right now the present day Tiger Woods where everyone's eyes are on him. Tiger is still Tiger. Everyone would love to see that pairing in the Ryder Cup."
Will it happen? That's anyone's guess. Unlike at the Presidents Cup -- which is done like a draft so the captains can create the match-ups they want – the U.S. and European skippers must submit the names of their players in advance, slotted rather anonymously into numbered matches.
"Sunday will be what will be," Olazabal said. "... I know that all of you are very eager to have that match played but we will have to wait and see what happens, and first of all, how the matches develop the next few days.
"We are guessing here and my guess is as good as yours. … I think the Ryder Cup is more important than that single match."
U.S. Captain Davis Love III acknowledged such a match would be "fun to watch, that's for sure." The two men played in the same group with each other five times during the FedexCup Playoffs with Woods shooting the lower score four times -- but match play is a different animal.
"I'm sure its not in the Captain's agreement that we don't do it," Love said when asked if he would get with Olazabal and try to guarantee that pairing on Sunday. "But I'm sure it’s against the spirit of it. ... I definitely don't want to be the first to cross over into their room and start rigging pairings."
Regardless of who gets the wins, taking down the world No. 1 this week will provide motivation in the U.S. camp -- just as victories over Woods will fly high in the European team room. Even so, McIlroy doesn't believe he's a marked man and he just plans to focus on winning as many points as he can.
"I don't think I have a bulls-eye on my back," he said. "I think it's a huge compliment that people are saying they want to beat me and whatever. Whoever wants to take me on, they can take me on."
Woods has been there, done that.
"It's part of being consistent," he said. "It's part of being ranked No. 1. It's part of winning major championships. You're always going to want to try and take out their best player, and that's just part of the deal. That's a fun challenge.
“I certainly have relished it over the years and I'm sure he's going to relish it this week."