Tiger still a hero for McIlroy

Rory McIlroy knows he's got a long way to go to catch Tiger.Rory McIlroy reckons he must become a ruthless finisher before he can be compared to top cat Tiger Woods.

The Holywood teenager, 19, is the hottest ticket in golf after his breakthrough win in Dubai sent him soaring to 16th in the world.

But after nearly blowing a six-shot lead in the desert he believes he has a long way to go before he can take on golf’s ultimate Terminator.

Forced to drive from snowbound Heathrow to Manchester to catch the flight home to Belfast, McIlroy said: “There’s never been a better finisher in golf than Tiger. When you look at anyone coming down the back nine with a four or five stroke lead, you think it’s easy but it’s not.

“There’s only a few guys in the world that can make it look easy and Tiger’s one of them.”

Masters and Open champion Mark O’Meara said in Dubai that McIlroy was already a better ball-striker than Woods was at the same age.

But the Ulster kid knows that he has plenty to time to get his putting and his short game to a level where he can contend for Major glory .

He said: “Tiger’s obviously one of my fellow competitors, my opponents now, but he is still one of my heroes.

“I don’t think anyone can be compared to Tiger. What he has done for the game of golf, I will never be able to do.

“Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to win Majors – what has he done, 14 of them? Hopefully, I’ll just be able to keep getting better and keep trying to win golf tournaments. If I can do that then I’ll be happy.

“I was asked in Dubai if was targeting majors. But I have only played in one so far. I mean, I have just won my first event and it's great but I have still got a long way to go.”

Woods’ short game and putting is what separates him from the rest and McIlroy believes he is getting better and better in that department thanks to the work he has done with Padraig Harrington’s putting guru Dr Paul Hurrion.

Proud of his 72nd hole bunker shot and the three and a half foot putt that won him his first title, McIlroy said: “My putting has improved a lot and I think that’s been one of the reasons why I have done so well over the past few months.

“I holed quite a few nice putts yesterday - a great one on 12 for birdie and a great bogey putt on 16, which I thought was a big putt. Every time I make good putts like that, it adds to my confidence and I’m happy to take it from there.”

Ryder Cup hero Eamonn Darcy, who won the Dubai Desert Classic in 1990 when McIlroy was less than a year old, reckons the straight-hitting Holywood idol has more in common with Jack Nicklaus that wayward Woods.

Darcy said: “Woods is like a Palmer in his heyday. He hits it all over the place. Rory doesn't do that. He's more like a young Nicklaus. He hits it in play all the time and that's huge for Majors.

“He’s relentless like Nicklaus was. I wouldn't compare him with Tiger. They play the game in a totally different way. Rory won't get as many grey hairs as Tiger.”

McIlroy has played just one major so far in his career and is looking ahead to his next outing the WGC Accenture Matchplay in three weeks time rather than the Masters at Augusta.

He’s already arranged to play a practice round with O’Meara at Augusta but his focus is on his PGA Tour debut in Tucson later this month.

He said: “It is great to be in the top 20 in the world. That was the goal at the start of the year. Only a month has gone by and I have been able to do that.

“Now I just want to go out and compete and get in contention on Sunday. That is my goal in every tournament and if I can do that I won't need to set goals, they will be there for me."

McIlroy has no plans to take the advice of defending champion Trevor Immelman and head to Augusta for an early practice round.

But he will be following the South African's advice by seeking the advice of a former champion who won't be contending - Mark O'Meara.

"I played with Mark O'Meara in Dubai I am probably going to play a practice round with him at Augusta on the Tuesday.

"I didn't ask him for any tips really. We were just chatting and he was saying it should set up pretty well for me. He said, 'You hit it long, you hit it high. You can draw it well and you just need a good short game.'

"So as long as I have all those things in check I should be okay!"