BETHESDA, Md. – There's at least one notable absence from the players lining up to throw a ticker-tape parade for Rory McIlroy.
"They don't give trophies away," Lee Westwood said brusquely, "on Fridays and Saturdays."
It's too bad the 38-year-old Englishman and 22-year-old Northern Irishman won't be paired together for the final lap of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. Golf etiquette would have required that they behave like chums, or at least do their best to make it look that way — exchanging plenty of "well played," ''nice shot," great putt" and all that.
They were Ryder Cup teammates just last October, after all, they're practically countrymen and they share an agent. But they're more rivals than they're ever likely to be friends.
The praise for McIlroy has been nonstop this week, and with good reason. More than a few competitors had already conceded they were playing for second, and after McIlroy strolled off the course Saturday evening with an eight-shot lead over his closest pursuer, Y.E. Yang, that sentiment was all but etched on the U.S. Open trophy.
Yang, who played with McIlroy in the last group Saturday, will get a second shot at him Sunday. But judging by his first go-round — when McIlroy missed almost as many fairways and greens as he had in the first two rounds combined and still beat Yang by two strokes, 68-70 — he's not likely to make the kid sweat.
Westwood, on the other hand, still might. He'll go off alongside Jason Day, who's also 5-under, in the next-to-last group and almost no one has been hotter lately. Westwood has two wins and a loss in a playoff in his last four tournaments and after a slow- starting 75 here, shot 68 and 65 in his last two rounds.
"I set a target on Friday night. That's all you can do when you're chasing a big lead," he said.
"I said maybe if I can get to 10 under at the weekend, but you don't know how Rory is going to do. You don't know how he's going to deal with the big lead. He had a big lead in a major and didn't deal with it well before. There's pressure on him with regards to that.
"So," he said finally, "we'll see."
That may not sound harsh, but Westwood has launched golf's version of a beanball war. The references about McIlroy not dealing well with a big lead go back two months to the kid's spitting the bit at the Masters. There, he left the clubhouse Sunday afternoon with a four-stroke lead, wound up shooting a shaky 80 and looking for a place to hide.
Westwood wasn't particularly sympathetic that day, which should have surprised exactly no one. The two have been sniping at one another on Twitter and in interview rooms as far-flung as Dubai. In fact, Westwood was asked to compare McIlroy's performance Friday to Tiger Woods' destruction of Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open and said, "We'll see what Rory does. He's had leads before."
Given yet one more chance to laud the youngster in that same interview — "What advice would you give to Rory going in with two rounds to go?" Westwood replied:
"I'm supposed to beat him over the next two days. I'm hardly going to give him advice, am I?"
Like McIlroy, the Englishman made a splashy arrival in the game, but his career arc has been uneven since. He's had his shot to win a few majors and never sealed the deal, then was a middling player for nearly a decade before emerging the last few years as a force on the European Tour again.
It's easy to make an argument that he's currently the best player never to win a major, but whether McIlroy's likelihood of becoming the latest player to leapfrog him has anything to do with Westwood's reluctance to give the kid his due is pure speculation. To be sure, McIlroy has given back as good as he's got.
And either way, Chubby Chandler, the agent for both men, went out of his way Saturday to make it sound as though all the golfers in his stable get along famously. He regaled reporters with stories of dinners this week, noting that both he and Westwood have already picked up tabs and that Saturday night's bill is going to wind up in front of McIlroy.
Even so, Westwood refused to commit to being at the table.
"I don't know," he said when asked whether he planned to dine with McIlroy. "Depends what time he gets finished."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org