Tiger Woods believes Rory McIlroy has a better swing at 22 than he did at the same age.
Okay, Woods was rebuilding his swing at the time, but that’s not the point.
The former world No 1 and 14-time major winner confessed that it was “cool to watch” the way the Ulster star romped to a record-setting, eight-shot US Open victory at Congressional 10 days ago.
“That was pretty good, wasn’t it?” a recuperating Woods said at the AT&T National in Pennsylvania, where he is hosting the tournament but not playing. “That was some seriously good playing.
“As I was saying out there earlier, it was cool to see that he had softer conditions and he was able to go low but also was able to continue pushing it, and that’s what’s fun when you have a lead is to keep building on it and keep pushing.
“Those conditions weren’t such where pars were going to build leads and an occasional birdie. You had to go out there and be aggressive and go get the birdies because everyone else was; everyone else was making three, four, five, six birdies a day, and he just didn’t make any bogeys.
“That was very impressive playing. To do that at a U.S. Open, to be that aggressive the entire time, that was cool to watch.”
So what if Rory snatched a few of his scoring records. Woods was impressed. But that’s as far as it goes. Yes, he heard the talk about a changing of the guard at the top of professional golf, but he’s not yet ready to concede that his time is over and that the McIlroy Era has begun.
“Yeah, I’m 35, I’m not 65,” he said. “I’ve still got some years ahead of me. Golf is unlike any other sport. I mean, Watson was, what, 59 years old when he almost won? We can play for a very long time. And given that we have the health to do it, guys have succeeded for a very long time.”
He concedes that McIlroy swings the club better at the age of 22 than he did when he won the Masters aged 21 in 1997. But he adds that he made his swing even better when he was 22. Was that a veiled slight? Probably not. Tiger likes Rory and lives for the competition.
“In 1997 when I was, what, 21, granted I had some success, but I didn’t like my golf swing. That’s why I changed it,” Woods said when comparing himself to McIlroy. “I felt like at the same age, his swing is definitely better than mine was at the same age.
“But in ‘99 my swing came together and I had a pretty good next two years.”
If it weren’t for his inexperience and erratic putting, McIlroy could hold all four majors right now. Woods completed the Tiger Slam in 2000 after completely overhauling his swing. Nevertheless, the American was impressed with the way McIlroy came back after his final round Masters collapse
“He needs to obviously continue working on it and continue getting better. And he’s still young … so it’s fun to see someone who’s of that age play the way he did and handle himself the way he did after Augusta.
Hey, we’ve all fallen, we’ve all made mistakes and played poorly and lost golf tournaments, and I did it in ‘96 at Quad Cities. I had the lead and just absolutely blew up on Sunday, learned my lesson and came back and won golf tournaments after that, that same year.
“It’s fun to see someone do that. It’s fun to see someone apply what they’ve learned and succeed while doing it.”
As for Woods, he has no timetable for his return to the game as he recovers from knee and Achilles injuries that forced him to miss the US Open.
What he does know for sure is that he won’t come back until he is fully healed. Will he be ready for the Open at Sandwich in two weeks? It seems unlikely.
“I wouldn’t go over there just to show up,” Woods said. “I’d go over there to win the golf tournament, so I need to obviously get my body ready so I can practice and eventually play and apply.”
He admits the made a mistake by playing against doctor’s orders at the Players Championship in May, when he was forced to pull out after just nine holes.
From now on he’s going to listen to advice and his body.
“Probably in retrospect it was a borderline call whether I should have played THE PLAYERS. I played the call on that and played and wasn’t quite 100 percent. Unfortunately I hurt myself there. Now this time around, it’s different. I’m going at it differently. I’m setting no timetable, which is very different for me. Usually I set a timetable when I want to come back and play when I’ve had injuries before.
“This one is different. I’m just going to learn my lesson from what I did at THE PLAYERS and apply it this time and come back when I’m 100 percent.
“I don’t know when that is going to be. That’s kind of the frustrating thing about it right now is I don’t know. I am getting stronger, starting to get more explosive again, and going to eventually start practicing and playing again, then ultimately come out here and play against these guys.”