Tiger Woods replies to challenge

NEWPORT, Wales -- There is nothing like a little extra motivation for Tiger Woods -- perceived or otherwise -- heading into a big event.

So it took little time Tuesday for the subject of Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy to come up at Celtic Manor.

McIlroy has been outspoken in recent weeks about getting the opportunity to play in the Ryder Cup against Woods, given the world No. 1's recent lackluster form.

"I would love to face him," McIlroy, who won the Quail Hollow Championship in May for his first PGA Tour victory, said in an interview with the BBC last month. "Unless his game rapidly improves in the next month or so, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him."

Asked his reaction to McIlroy's comments, Woods wasted few words.

"Me, too," he said.

Asked if he cared to elaborate, Woods said, "No."

The Ryder Cup is always about those spicy little moments, and Woods has long been known to carry such grudges to the tee.

He didn't take kindly to Vijay Singh's caddie having the words "Tiger Who?" stitched to his cap at the 1998 Presidents Cup.

And when Stephen Ames pointed out in 2006 that Woods had been driving the ball erratically on the eve of their match at the Accenture Match Play Championship, Woods defeated him by the second-largest possible margin in an 18-hole match, 9 and 8.

When asked later if Ames' comments had inspired him, Woods responded, "As I said, 9 and 8."

McIlroy tried to downplay his previous comments about Woods, pointing out that he uttered them the week following the Bridgestone Invitational, where Woods had his worst 72-hole tournament as a pro.

"So he wasn't playing too well at that time," McIlroy said. "He's obviously getting his game together, and he's working with Sean Foley and he's making a few swing changes. I said this week and last week, I don't mind who. I just want to win points against the team."

There had been rumblings that Woods approached McIlroy at the recent BMW Championship near Chicago to basically say, "Be careful what you wish for." But McIlroy denied Tuesday that such a conversation took place.

A meeting between the two this week would have to come somewhat by chance.

The pairings for the three-day competition are made by a blind draw, although it has become quite clear that McIlroy will play with reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, and they might even lead off the proceedings Friday morning.

In that case, does U.S. captain Corey Pavin send out Woods first along with his suspected partner, Steve Stricker?

Pavin, unlike his European counterpart Colin Montgomerie, is keeping his pairings guarded. And Woods would not confirm any possibilities, either.

"We'll find out," Woods said, smiling.

This will be Woods' sixth Ryder Cup dating to his rookie year in 1997. He missed the 2008 matches while recovering from knee surgery, the year the United States won for the first time since 1999.

His overall record of 10-13-2 often has been used as an example of his indifference toward the event. The Americans are 1-4 in those matches.

"It would be great to get a win and I'm looking forward to getting out there and contributing and hopefully get some points and hopefully we can get this thing done," he said.

Tuesday was the first day of practice on the Twenty Ten course at Celtic Manor, designed specifically for the Ryder Cup. What began under a light drizzle soon gave way to mild sunshine, only for rain to arrive toward the afternoon.

Based on the foursomes both captains sent out, there were no surprises.

Europe started on the back nine with Francesco and Edoardo Molinari playing with McIlroy and McDowell. Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher brought up the rear.

Woods played alongside Stricker, with whom he was 4-0 at the Presidents Cup a year ago. They were joined by Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson, while the anchor foursomes were Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson with Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, the 21-year-old who became the first PGA Tour rookie to be picked for the Ryder Cup.

Bob Harig is a golf writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.