If the Americans want to target Rory McIlroy at the Ryder Cup in Chicago then that is perfectly fine with him.
“This week I’m not the No 1 player in the world,” McIlroy said yesterday. “I’m one person in a 12-man team and that’s it.
“It’s a team effort. There’s 12 guys striving towards the same goal. I’m just part of that.”
Yet there is no doubt many Americans feel that if they can bring down the 23-year-old Northern Irishman – three wins in his last five starts, including his second major – then they will be a long way towards winning back the trophy.
Jim Furyk said last week “obviously he’s a marked man. Right now he’s the present-day Tiger Woods where everyone’s eyes are on him.”
And winning 2010 captain Paul Azinger stated: “He can slump his shoulders. If he loses two matches that first day the whole dynamic in the European team room changes.
“I think Europe have always looked for Tiger and he’s been easy to find. We always used to look for Seve Ballesteros.”
McIlroy, who had one win, two halves and one loss on his cup debut two years ago, is expected to partner compatriot Graeme McDowell again. They were together in practice for the second day running yesterday.
“I don’t think I have a bullseye on my back,” the 23-year-old added.
“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.
“I just want to go out and get a point for the team and whether that’s going out first or fourth or in the middle really doesn’t make a difference to me.
“And it doesn’t make a difference who I play. I’m going to go out there and give it my best to win that point.”
Given his recent form and his position in the game it would be a huge surprise if European captain Jose Maria Olazabal rests McIlroy from a session.
But on that the USPGA champion said: “I want to play as much as I can. I want to help the team out as much as I can – I feel I can do that. I’d also be very comfortable if he wanted to rest me or leave me out one or two of the sessions.”
Woods has never been benched in six appearances, even though he lost twice on the opening day in 1999 and again in 2004. The latter occasion was when he and arch rival Phil Mickelson were paired, but it backfired horribly.
McIlroy, of course, is playing a Ryder Cup in America for the first time.
Nobody knows yet just how rowdy it will be, but McIlroy was also asked how he would react if somebody heckled him.
“There’s not much you can do. Emotions run high here and obviously the majority of the crowd are going to be pulling for the American team.
“You’ve just got to get on with it. Hopefully, I won’t get heckled, but if I do then you’ve just got to stay calm and be focused on the golf.”
On whether he had ever experienced heckling he smiled and replied: “Just because of my haircut – nothing insulting!”
Two years ago McIlroy played his part in the targeting of Woods, who has been on five losing sides and only one winning one since his 1997 debut.
“Unless his game rapidly improves in the next month or so (Woods had just finished next to last in Akron on 18-over), I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him,” McIlroy had said.
Still world No 1 at the time – it was that season he fell outside the top 50 before starting the climb back to his current second – Woods won three of his four games, albeit in another defeat.
He and McIlroy never faced each other, though. This week there is far more chance of it happening and that includes Sunday’s singles.
Woods has said “that would be fun” and has no reason to fear it, even with Greg Norman saying last week he thought McIlroy intimidated him. When the world’s top two met in the first round of the Tour Championship last Thursday Woods outscored McIlroy 66-69 - and that took it to 7-2 in his favour in strokeplay events.
He might be telling American captain Davis Love “bring it on”, but now it is matchplay McIlroy might be telling Olazabal the same thing in the privacy of the team room.
As tension builds ahead of tomorrow’s opening day, Lee Westwood yesterday labelled US captain Davis Love’s choice of course set-up as “weird.”
Love admitted he “just doesn’t like rough” and wanted a Ryder Cup featuring lots of birdies and eagles to get the home fans going.
That looks likely to happen given that Westwood and Luke Donald shot a better-ball score of 59, 13-under, in Tuesday’s first practice round, but Westwood was somewhat baffled by the decision.
“I’ve played here pretty much all year and haven’t seen a course with no rough down the side of the fairways or around the greens,” he said.
“This is not a golf course that either team is particularly used to and I can’t see how it suits one team or the other to be perfectly honest. I would say the last time I played a golf course set up like this was The Belfry in 2002, and we set that up for ourselves. That’s a weird one to me, but you have to do what you feel is right for your team.”