London: Rory McIlroy “is only going to get better” and the questions about the Northern Irish phenomenon will only keep coming. That was the realisation for Tiger Woods on Tuesday when he experienced something of a first.
Certainly, Woods, the 14time major winner, has never participated in a press conference in which the initial three queries fired in his direction were about another player. If Woods was under any doubt that there is a new superstar threatening to eclipse his own limelight, then Tuesday, at the Abu Dhabi Championship, put him right.
Yet as a Nike player himself, Woods would have been under no illusion anyway. On Monday, McIlroy was confirmed as the new $125 million (£78 million) man of the Swoosh. And in Woods’s opinion his equipment and apparel providers are on to a good deal.
“Rory drives it beautifully, is a beautiful iron player and when he’s got that putter rolling he makes a lot of putts,” Woods said. “He’s proven he can make big putts; he’s won a couple of majors by large margins. Yes, he has all the tools and is only going to refine them. He’s only going to get better at it and it will be good to see.”
“Good” or “ominous”? Woods, of course, would never admit to the latter. But then, he declined to agree with Jack Nicklaus’s comments late last year, which spoke of McIlroy’s stunning emergence acting as motivation for Woods to kick on again in a major quest which has been stalled since 2008.
Woods, in fact, believes it will take time to develop the same sort of rivalry with world No.1 McIlroy that he has experienced with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.
“I think I’ve gone head-to-head against Phil, Ernie and Vijay the most over the course of my career,” he said.