Rory McIlroy’s up-close look at Tiger Woods has the Northern Ireland star convinced the 14-time major champion is “very close” in his latest comeback bid.
McIlroy, owner of four major titles himself, played alongside Woods in the first two rounds of the Genesis Open.
Even though Woods missed the cut, McIlroy believes the man who once seemed certain to challenge Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles can contend again.
“He’s very close,” McIlroy said. “Give him a little bit of time. He’s still figuring a few things out with equipment, I think, sort of in between drivers and whatever, but he’s close.”
Woods struggled to hit fairways at the Riviera Country Club, just as he did en route to a tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines three weeks earlier – his first US PGA Tour event in a year.
He was also irked by his irons and, on Friday, uncomfortable with his putter.
But McIlroy said there were enough glimpses of the old short-game magic to warrant optimism.
“I thought his short game display (Thursday) was very, very impressive,” McIlroy said. “He struggled a little bit more (Friday), but he hits enough good shots to know that if he sort of pieces it all together, he’s going to be right there.
“I think everyone just has to be patient with him, especially him being patient with it and just give himself time,” added McIlroy, himself coming off a lengthy break after enduring an injury-ravaged 2017.
While aspects of Woods’s game may be missing, his passion for golf remains plain, McIlroy said.
“There’s no bigger golf nerd in the world than Tiger Woods,” McIlroy said. “He absolutely loves it.”
And golf fans still love him, for both good and ill, McIlroy found as he coped with the boisterous galleries that followed Woods’s every move — with little regard for the efforts of his playing partners.
“I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” McIlroy said of the jostling and jockeying and unsolicited advice from fans.
“It’s tiring,” McIlroy conceded. “I’ve got a headache after all that. He has to deal with that every single time he goes out to play.”
Former world number one Tiger Woods announced Thursday he will play his first US PGA Tour event of 2018 in three weeks at Torrey Pines and another three weeks later at Riviera.
Woods, a 14-time major champion making his latest comeback from nagging back injuries, will have his 2018 debut from January 25-28 in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he has won seven PGA event titles and the 2008 US Open, his most recent major triumph.
Woods also said he will compete at the Genesis Open at Riviera in Los Angeles, his first appearance there since 2006. Woods will serve as host of the event, which benefits his charity foundation.
“Excited to start my season off in SoCal at @FarmersInsOpen and @genesisopen,” Woods said in a Twitter posting.
The February 15-18 event is on the same Riviera layout where Woods played his first PGA event in 1992 as an amateur on a sponsor’s exemption.
“I’m very excited to be back at Riviera,” Woods said. “I haven’t played at Riviera in a tournament in a very long time. To be able to play in an event that I used to come to as an amateur, as a junior and now as the tournament host, that is on one of the most historic sites in all of golf, it’s a dream come true.”
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) January 4, 2018
Woods, whose 79 US PGA titles are three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record, won PGA crowns at Torrey Pines in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2013 and is the event’s all-time leading money winner with $6,856,015.
“Tiger shares a rich history with Torrey Pines,” said tournament director Peter Ripa. “We are excited to have him join our field once again.
“His legacy already cemented, we look forward to, together with our fans, watching as Tiger writes the latest chapter of his storied career.”
Others committed to playing at Torrey Pines include Spain’s Jon Rahm, Britain’s Justin Rose and Americans Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson.
Woods, a 14-time major champion, missed the entire 2015-16 season with back issues and a comeback attempt was cut short by pain last February, leading to another back procedure last April.
Woods was sidelined nearly 10 months until last month’s Hero World Challenge charity event in the Bahamas, where he shared ninth in a field of 18 and said he was finally playing without pain.
Provided by AFP Sport
Tiger Woods still harbours ambitions of reminding his kids and a new generation of rivals that he is more than “the YouTube golfer” – despite revealing the depth of his injury problems.
Woods has started just three events since August 2015 and withdrew from his most recent tournament in February in Dubai after an opening 77.
The 14-time major winner subsequently underwent spinal fusion surgery in April, his fourth back operation in the space of three years, but will return to action in this week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 28, 2017
“This surgery was about quality of life because I didn’t really have much,” Woods told a pre-tournament press conference ahead of the 10th comeback after an absence of 10 weeks or more in his career.
“I’ve been in bed for about two years and haven’t been able to do much. The neatest thing for me is to be able to get out of bed and I can grab a club and not use it as a crutch.
“I was talking to my surgeon (about) how long will this fused back hold up, but he said you’ll be fine for the rest of your life. It’s bone and bone, you’re fine.
“It’s still trying to sink in that I can start doing things like that, being more athletic. There’s still some apprehension going forward, no doubt. This week is a big step for me.”
Former world number one Woods is currently ranked 1,199th and is a 40/1 outsider in the 18-man field, which features several players who grew up as some of his biggest fans.
The likes of US PGA champion Justin Thomas, who will partner Woods in Thursday’s first round, only turned professional in 2013, the year of Woods’ last tournament win.
“In an ideal world, I would like to have them feel what some of my past guys had to go against all those years,” added Woods. “I’d like them to feel that same way.”
Woods also wants his children Charlie and Sam to see first-hand how good he is, especially after Sam’s comment earlier this year when being introduced to Lionel Messi.
Woods added: “I said ‘ain’t it neat to meet a living legend’ and she said ‘yeah we live with one’.
“I never thought my kids understood what I’d been able to do in the game of golf because they always think I’m the YouTube golfer.
“They’ve never seen me in action. Charlie was there at Akron when I won last time, but he doesn’t really remember it.
A handful of Tiger Woods’ full swings at regular speed from this week in The Bahamas. pic.twitter.com/xQwlM7Bi31
— Charlie Kane (@PGATOURKane) November 29, 2017
“I want them to see what I’ve been able to do my entire career. I don’t know how long I’m going to be playing.
“I want them to come to a few events, feel it, understand it a bit more, kind of what Jack (Nicklaus) did with his kids, have Jackie (his son) carry the bag at Augusta.”