Tiger Woods will be looking anxious over his shoulder for Irish duo Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy when he bids for a hat-trick of Open Championship wins over the Old Course next week.

At the age of 34, the American knows that it is only going to get harder to fend off the competition and win the five majors he needs to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles.

And he regards recently crowned US Open champion McDowell and 21-year old Holywood sensation McIlroy as just two of the men who he will be forced to elbow aside as he tries to over the Golden Bear in the record books.

Sizing up his rivals, Woods mentioned the in-form Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson but also put in a word for youth.

He said: “There are a lot of people, including Rory. He’s already won on our tour (at Quail Hollow in May). He has the talent. 

“There’s so many players now that have had a lot of success around the world, one being Ryo Ishikawa. It will be a fun test for everybody.” 

While Masters champion Mickelson took time out to praise McDowell for his masterly performance at Pebble Beach, Woods was criticised for his surly silence on the Ulsterman’s triumph.

The world No 1 could claim that McDOwell had yet to finish at Pebble Beach when he faced the press. But he made amends at rain-lashed Adare when he warmly shook hands with G-Mac as the met on the first tee for the 8am shotgun start.

And he even insisted that now that McDowell has won one major, there is no reason why he can’t go out and win more.

Tiger said: “He played great. He played consistent. He played wonderful US Open golf and that’s what you have to do.

“You have to plod your way around and he did that. He made the fewest mistakes and that’s what always wins US Opens.

“Any time you win one major, it only gives you confidence to get the second because you know what it takes. 

“If you haven’t won one, it’s hard to get up there and have the same confidence level as someone who has. 

“He’s proved to himself that he can do it and he certainly did all of the right things at the right time to win a championship like that.”

As for his own game, Woods is praying that he will be inspired by the Home of Golf having fallen in love with St Andrews on his first visit there in 1995.

Having won the Open by wide margins at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005, Woods added: “It’s what I think every champion wants to have happen in their career. 

“This is where it all started and to win at the home of golf, it has such a special feeling walking up the last. I just fell in love with St Andrews when I first played there in 1995.”