HEDDON ON THE WALL, England – Tiger Woods can walk away from golf with “his head held extremely high” if he never plays competitive golf again, Rory McIlroy says.
The former world number one paid a glowing tribute to Woods in reaction to Woods’ claim yesterday that there’s a possibility he might never play golf again.
“If this is it then he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone, not to me, not to us, not himself,” McIlroy said. “He can walk away from this game with his head held extremely high.
“He’s done wonders for this game. I don’t think there’s a single figure in golf who’s done more for the game in terms of bringing different groups of people into the game, different ethnicities, different age groups. He made golf cool in the 90s when it really needed an injection of something. He’s a legend of the game and if this is it then everyone should just applaud the great career he’s had.”
McIlroy spoke after returning a three-under-par 67 in the opening round of the $4 million British Masters, his second last event of the season before a long break to try to recover from the nagging rib injury that’s hampered him all season. The four-time major winner also revealed that he’s been privy to Woods’ travails in recent months.
“He’s taking it very slowly. I’ve spent a bit of time with him over the past few months and he’s waiting on his doctors to tell him when he can do things again. He’s going to take their advice, and not be maybe quite as stubborn as he was back in the day.
“If he doesn’t play again then he’s been the greatest player that I’ve ever seen. He’s probably played the greatest golf of anyone in my lifetime. I didn’t really get to see Jack (Nicklaus) play. Jack has a better record, but I don’t know if he played better golf.”
Out in the morning groups, McIlroy was three shots off the lead shared by the trio of Alvaro Quiros of Spain, England’s Chris Hanson and Mikko Ilonen of Finland when he finished his round.
The Northern Irishman, who began on the 10th tee, nearly derailed his round with a blocked drive at the 17th (his eighth hole), and feared me might have to head back to the tee after losing his ball.
“I thought it was going to be The Open all over again,” said McIlroy, in reference to losing a ball on Royal Birkdale’s 15th hole during the final round of this year ‘s Open Championship. The ensuing double bogey ended McIlroy’s slim chance of winning his fifth major.
“I’ve hit a few destructive tee shots over the last few weeks just by going for it. I know that right miss is in there when I try to hit it hard, so after that I hit some really good tee shots. I knew what I did which was the good thing, and I was able to fix it.”
McIlroy will play in next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and then won’t play any competitive golf until the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January. He needs to win either this week or next to avoid going winless for this first year since 2009.