MARANA, Ariz. -- There's been plenty of talk over the past year about how Tiger Woods has lost much of his aura, about how the younger players aren't nearly as cowed, much less intimidated.
The first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship reaffirmed that notion, in words if not in actions.
After he won his opening round, world No. 7 Rory McIlroy was in the middle of a discussion about the youth movement -- even at 21, there are three players younger than McIlroy in the 64-man field -- when the delicate question was posed about whether the game is in transition.
Woods is 35, while Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, the three other Americans flitting around the world top 10 for the past few seasons, all are north of 40.
McIlroy sensed that he was about to walk on eggshells -- if not landmines -- and chose his words very, very carefully.
But then he went there, anyway.
"I definitely think there's an opportunity for the younger guys to come and show what they've got on tour," McIlroy said. "I mean, regardless of [whether] Tiger or Phil or Steve Stricker or Jim Furyk are coming towards the end of their careers, I think the young guys are good enough to compete with them."
Then it got interesting, if not a little amusing. McIlroy paused several times in an attempt to be deferential, then laid it out there on the table, anyway. That's right, he said it.
"I mean, I don't think Tiger and Phil have gotten any ...," he said, pausing and generating snickers. "I don't think Phil has gotten any worse. I mean, Tiger isn't as dominant as he used to be, and Phil, I mean Phil won the Masters last year.
"They're great players and they're going to continue to be great players until their mid 40s. I think it's just, I think it's a good opportunity for guys, the younger generation to come through and show what they have."
And before everybody buries the kid for popping off, ask yourself this -- it's an honest answer and he's not exactly wrong, is he?
Last year, McIlroy created a brief stir when he said he wanted to face Woods at the Ryder Cup, and so would each of his teammates, because Woods was in the midst of a particularly poor stretch of play. He had a valid point, though it was viewed at the time as something akin to heresy, given the kid gloves with which Woods has long been handled.
Guess what? The gloves these kids are wearing feel a lot more like bare knuckles.