UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, drew a standing-room only crowd Tuesday to the media interview room. No. 195 Tiger Woods drew an even larger audience.
Both had plenty to say – about rankings, firm-and-fast Chambers Bay, the course set-up and 15-year-old wunderkind Cole Hammer earning a spot in the 115th U.S. Open.
McIlroy arrives with two straight missed cuts after dusting the competition at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. He was asked if the top ranking can be a psychological advantage.
“When LeBron (James) talks about that, that’s not confidence, that’s a fact when you look at how he’s carried his team,” McIlroy said. “I guess for me I feel the same way when I look at the world rankings and see my name at the top. If you look back at the last four or five years I’ve won more majors than anyone else.
“So do I feel like the best player in the world? Yes. And obviously I want to go out every week and try to back that up.”
Rickie Fowler, who finished in the top five in all four majors in 2014, didn’t argue.
“He’s proven that,” Fowler said. “I got him on the aggregate but he’s holding two trophies so he got me there. He’s the guy out front.”
That used to be Woods, but he’s struggled in 2015, aside from a T-17 finish at the Masters. He’s alternated his tee times at Chambers Bay, trying to get a sense for the course in different conditions. He played when he hit driver, 5-wood to reach par 4s in cooler, windy conditions. On the same holes in warmer temperatures this week that have dried out the course, he hit driver and 7- or 8-iron.
Woods repeatedly emphasized that the set-up, supervised by USGA executive director Mike Davis, will dictate how players tackle the course.
“We don’t know, none of us, none of you, what Mike is going to do and it’s so hard to predict,” Woods said. “Pete Dye always believed make the long holes long. If it’s into the wind, put them all the way back. If it’s downwind, put them all the way up. We don’t know what Mike is going to do on the different winds and the different days.”
Preparing for Chambers Bay isn’t an easy task.
“There are so many options,” said Woods, who fielded one question from course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. “It’s unlike any other major I’ve prepared for having to hit so many different tee shots. There are three or four different tee shots on almost every hole.”
Woods chatted with Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who both played in the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay.
“Patrick was telling me on No. 1, the first hole of match play, he made a solid nine and won the hole,” said Woods, drawing chuckles from an overflow crowd. “We’re going to see some higher numbers. Then again, we may not. It depends on what Mike gives us.”
Cole Hammer, who shot 64-68 at sectionals to become the third youngest Open qualifier, addressed the media just before McIlroy and Woods. Hammer, 15, played a practice round with Spieth and Webb Simpson. He was stationed next to McIlroy on the range.
“He hits it so far it’s crazy,” Hammer said. “It was really cool being able to hit balls next to the No. 1 player in the world.”
It triggered memories for McIlroy, who was 18 when he played in his first major.
“If I had any advice for Cole it would just be to take it all in and enjoy it and try to get as much out of it as he can,” McIlroy said. “With the way he was hitting it on the range, I don’t think he’s got much to worry about.”
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