Time on McIlroy's side in Tiger battle

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will be keeping an eye out for each other this week. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieRory McIlroy has a major advantage over Tiger Woods as he bids to capture his first green jacket this week.

It’s not his length off the tee, hit towering iron shots or his fearless short game but something as elusive as time itself.

While the clock is ticking on 36-year old Woods’s bid to etch his name in the history books by beating Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins, McIlroy feels no pressure to win the Masters at the age of 22.

Woods is already the youngest Masters champion in history after capturing the at just 21 in 1997.

And while McIlroy could match legends like Arnold Palmer and Seve Ballesteros by winning in his fourth Masters start, he knows that it took Jack Nicklaus five tries and Phil Mickelson a whopping 12 before they pulled on the green jacket.

Reflecting on the big lessons he learned last year, McIlroy said wisely: “I know I’ll have many more opportunities to win the Masters.”

The Holywood star learned that patience is a virtue and he is also comfortable being himself instead of trying to become a freckled Woods with a Northern Irish accent.

As he admitted before he captured the Honda Classic to become world No 1, trying to act like Woods in last year’s final round was a massive mistake.

He said: “I think growing up watching Tiger all those years win those majors, he gives out this aura where everything is just so focused.

“It’s like, ‘I’m going to rip your head off on that first tee.’ I felt like that’s the way I needed to be.”

Fleeing from comparisons with Woods, he added: “I’m not going to try and compare myself to anyone else.  I’ve never said that I want to be the next anyone.  

“I just want to be the first Rory McIlroy.  However good that turns out to be, then I’ll try my best to win tournaments and to win majors and to be best player in the world.”

Woods knows that McIlroy will be the man to beat at Augusta for years to come.

But whether or not he can delay the inevitable for another year remains to be seen on the back nine this Sunday.

A confessed McIlroy fan, Woods knows that McIlroy has it all and only needs experience now to complete the package.

Tiger said: “The way he plays, and I think the way he handles himself out there on the golf course, how competitive he is, he’s very feisty.  It’s what you have to be out here.

“You know, he has all of the makings of being a great champion for a long period of time.  

“We have seen him obviously what he did last year at the Masters and how he came back at the US Open.  

“He led, what, seven out of eight rounds in Major Championships last year, which is pretty impressive, right in a row.

“So he just needs to get more experienced.  That’s just from playing.  He’s put himself there.  Seems like every single tournament he plays in, he’s in the Top‑10, and that’s great to see.”

McIlroy arguably won his first Masters last year when he realised all the things he did wrong and took steps to put them right.

No-one doubts that he has the game to beat Woods and Phil Mickelson this week and become the second youngest Masters champion in history.

He’s improved his putting and sharpened his short game to such a degree that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when”.

Rory said: “I think one of the things I learnt was that as a person and as a golfer, I wasn’t ready to win the Masters; wasn’t ready to win a major.

“I really needed to think about what I needed to do to improve mentally and in different aspects of my game to get better.  I felt like I did that.

“It was a huge learning curve, learning experience. I took a lot from it and was able to put some of the things I learned into practice very quickly, and that’s what resulted in winning the U.S. Open a couple months after.”

He’s ready but whether Woods is ready to give up the crown this week is another matter entirely.