Why is the Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods show in Turkey?
Barely a week after enjoying contrasting fortunes in the Ryder Cup, golf's two biggest draws are competing against each other again – and it's all part of this country's drive to raise its sporting profile
It is costing Turkish Airlines and associated sponsors more than £5m to host the Tiger and Rory show this week. Cheap at twice the price with Woods still processing the catastrophic defeat in the Ryder Cup. On a Stage in Antalya at the heart of Turkey's Golfing Riviera Woods said sorry for his part in the failure of the United States to convert a 10-6 advantage on the final day at Medinah, and the cameras loved it.
Apologies tend to be big news when delivered by Woods. In the case of the Ryder Cup it emerged that he took the defeat by Europe on that cataclysmic final day personally, which prompted a remarkable gesture not ordinarily associated with a golfer whose career has been built concealing emotions behind a death stare. Before departing Medinah he gathered the four rookies on the American team, Brandt Snedeker, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner, in one room to apologise in person for letting them down. On route home to Florida that evening, and the following morning he followed that up with a series of calls to his captain Davis Love III to talk through the issues some more.
"It was difficult. We had a great lead and we didn't do it," Woods said. "Some of those guys were really bummed out that night. We wanted to get some early points on the board and it didn't happen. In the end my match didn't even matter.
"It was a tough situation. I had an opportunity [before singles] to earn three points and earned none. Stricks [Steve Stricker] and I went out there to get points for the team and didn't do it. It was frustrating. We were only a couple of points away from going into Sunday with a big lead. No loss is good. This was a pretty tough one. "
Offering his hosts another headline to go across the golfing world, Woods admitted a desire to one day lead America's Ryder Cup team as captain. It would, of course, be an honour, he said, but not before he has racked a few more appearances as a playing member. On that note he conceded that it might be time to rethink a strategy that has seen him paired in the past three events with Steve Stricker.
"Stricks and I have had a pretty good run together. Unfortunately we did not play well [at Medinah] and when we did play well we ran into a guys who made a lot of birdies. It was just one of those things. We will see how the team matches up at the Presidents Cup next year and who the next captain is at Gleneagles. First things first, I have got to make both those teams."
McIlroy, too, said he has yet to fully digest the significance of events in Chicago. He marvelled once more at the five-birdie finale delivered by his fourball partner Ian Poulter on Saturday night that gave Europe a sixth point and a foothold in the match. And he talked about the moment he felt the momentum was really swinging Europe's way when Justin Rose rolled in his winning putt on the 18th against Phil Mickelson. "I'm still trying to come down from that. It was an unbelievable night. I think we were all in disbelief that we had actually done it, that we had pulled it off. I remember turning to Poults on the 18th green and saying to him I really think we can do this. The boys coming in behind obviously did a phenomenal job in closing out their matches. We were all pretty tired but we stayed up deep into the night and there were a few sore heads the next morning."
Golf is big business in Turkey. The 14 courses that stretch along the cobalt coastline around Antalya bring in more than £20m a year to the local economy. The target is hit £100m annually. The £5.5m it has cost to put this shindig together would pay for an Istanbul magnate's wedding or five days in the company of Woods and McIlroy. That this event falls in the aftermath of one of the great Ryder Cup contests of all time doubles the value of every buck filling the coffers of the eight elite golfers engaged by the organisers this week.
For Turkey there is a bigger play under way. Since the Turkish Republic was established out of Ottoman ashes following the First World War, the big project has always been to make the leap to First World power. The courting of the European Union is part of that process, but if Turkey has to stand alone it will. The business of convincing the western world that Turkey is a secular state that can be trusted continues with its aggressive management of the Syrian crisis. Powerplays with Arab dictators in the Middle Eastern block is manifestly a risky business. Putting on a sporting event that projects a sugary image of sun sea and palm trees is not only safer and cheaper, but penetrates far quicker the consciousness of the common man.
Today it is golf, tomorrow the Olympics, for which Turkey is bidding in 2020.
Thus if Mustafa Kemal Ataturk were alive today, he would be on the first tee this morning clapping the players off, just as George Bush and Dubya were in Medinah, clinging to the Ryder Cup. Eight players split into two groups of four face off against each other in a round robin stroke play format, the winners of Group A playing the runners-up in Group B and vice versa in the semi-finals on Thursday, leading to the showpiece denouement on Friday morning. To maximise exposure the organisers placed Woods and McIlroy in the same group to ensure they meet at least once. The hope is, of course, that they convene again in the final. For those who resent the idea of plying multi-millionaire athletes with even more cash – the player who finishes last here banks £300,000 – console yourself in a weather forecast that predicts two days of downpours. Rain is rare in this Turkish sun trap in early October, where the players bathed in shade temperatures of 27 degrees yesterday. Maybe it is nature's way of getting its own back.
McIlroy and Woods are becoming increasingly used to each other's company and go out together tomorrow. As a double major winner and world No 1 McIlroy understands the dynamic shaping the game. "I'd rather be a part of it," he said. "Being compared to him, who is best etc, is not up to me but people like to see rivalries and that is what Tiger and I have. I'm excited by it. I don't think it has affected my game. If anything it has made me play better. This will be the first time we have played each other head-to-head so to speak. It would mean a lot to beat him. I'm sure it will be a little more relaxed than it would be on the last day of a major but we will both be taking it pretty seriously. Hopefully I will shoot the better score."
2020 Olympics: Who will host?
Although Istanbul has never hosted the Games, this is the fifth time the city has bid for the honour. The Turkish city hosted the UEFA Champions League Final in 2005, when Liverpool defeated Milan on penalties and is also home to three UEFA Elite arenas.
Madrid is bidding to host the Games for a third consecutive time after losing out to London and Rio de Janeiro respectively. The Spanish capital already has 27 of the 36 required venues in place.
Tokyo became the first Asian country to host the summer Games in 1964 and the city has returned with another bid, having been turned down for the 2016 Games in Rio.
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