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Tiger Woods Vs. Rory McIlroy

The two titans square up for the Masters

Posted Apr 04, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

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Deep, mutual respect characterised the attitude of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to each other, as they prepared to become intense rivals in pursuit of a coveted green jacket here at Augusta National this week.  It was somewhat reminiscent of top players from an earlier generation, when there was an obvious respect between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, even though they would never have been mistaken for bosom-buddy pals.

Without wishing to sound churlish, the words of Woods were probably the more surprising, given that he seemed an avowed advocate of the notion that you should never attempt to boost the morale of someone who was liable to beat you.  Nick Faldo certainly took this view, when accusing the current crop of European tournament players as being a mite too chummy for his liking.

Whether this was a sample of the new Woods, only time will tell. But I can’t remember him ever being so generous about another player.  When asked what he thought of McIlroy’s recovery from a Masters disaster 12 months ago to win the US Open two months later, the Great One said: “Very very impressive, because I had not met Rory at that time and I didn’t really know much about him.”

Mind you, this was a little difficult to credit from a player who seems to be invariably up to speed on what’s happening in the world of tournament golf.  For instance, Woods was in Tucson for the Accenture World Matchplay in February 2009, when his comeback to the game after surgery to his left knee was somewhat overshadowed by McIlroy’s debut on the PGA Tour.  That was the occasion when Ernie Els hailed the young Irishman as a future world number one while Geoff Ogilvy suggested that McIlroy was set to dominate golf for as long as he wished.

But we’ll let Woods’s apparent ignorance of that pass, as an inevitable consequence of his surprisingly early departure from the tournament at the hands of South Africa’s Tim Clark.

In the event, he and McIlroy first got together during nine holes of practice in Abu Dhabi early this year when they went on to be paired in the tournament proper.  Against that background, Woods said generously of his rival’s Masters collapse: “He just had one bad round.  It happens to everybody and we have all been in those situations where we’ve had one bad round. He learned from it, applied it and ran away with it (US Open).  That was really pretty impressive.”

He went on: “He’s very competitive and very feisty on the golf course, which is what you have to be out there. You know, he has all the makings of being a great champion for a long period of time.”  So there you have it. Endorsements don’t come much higher than that.

And what of McIlroy on Woods?  “I feel like I have a good relationship with Tiger,” he said.  Then, recalling some rather unflattering comments in Abu Dhabi to the effect that Woods was now essentially an ordinary player, he went on: “I got a little carried away back then; caught up in the moment.  But I feel like the relationship I have with Tiger is a good one.”       

All of which makes eminent sense, of course, where both of them are concerned. They know that it’s going to be tough enough attempting to beat each other’s brains out on the golf course, without having to field repeated questions about what they think of each other.  Which was the situation between Woods and Phil Mickelson for some time, without any real benefit accruing to either player.

Funnily enough, the essence of sensible rivalry at this level was probably best illustrated by a simple gesture by Faldo in his moment of Masters triumph in 1996.  After the Englishman had been the cause of a public humiliation for the Shark over the final 18 holes, he opened his arms to him for the warmest of hugs on the final green.  While rivalry was for transient battles in the sporting arena, friendship and respect were for life.

- Dermot Gilleece

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