The gloves are well and truly off when it comes to the subject of Tiger Woods’ current travails.
Johnny Miller compared Woods’ fall from grace to Mike Tyson’s last week when he told a national television audience: “It’s a little bit like a Mike Tyson story to be honest with you. Sort of invincible, scared everybody, performed quickly under pressure. Until a Buster Douglas came along … His life crumbled.”
Miller and his fellow talking heads have been slowly cranking up their criticism of Woods, unlike 21-year old Rory McIlroy, who has been fearlessly (and perhaps naively) giving the 14-time major winner both barrels for several months.
When he returned from last year’s US PGA at Whistling Straits, where he finished eight shots better than Woods in a share of third place, McIlroy gave the upcoming Ryder Cup some extra spice when he said: “I’d love to face him… Unless his game rapidly improves… I think anyone in the European team would fancy their chances against him.”
In this sense, McIlroy has been like the child from the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Where others fear to voice what is obvious, McIlroy does not mince his words or hide the fact that the man who was once a role model has now been laid bare as a tarnished, anti-hero with a balky golf swing.
Still a huge draw in the US, despite giving up his PGA Tour card this year, McIlroy’s opinions on Woods reached millions of US homes this week when he penned a 1,000-word, essay for Sports Illustrated’s Golf+ supplement.
The prestigious magazine, which has more than 3.5 million subscribers and several million on-line readers, proudly flagged a piece with McIlroy’s by-line under the heading: “Going Places: McIlroy on Tiger, life on Tour and career goals.”
Woods has enough motivation to get his game back in shape without having to use McIlroy’s opinions to gee him up. But if the new world No 5 needs something to stick on the fridge door, he won’t have to look further than McIlroy’s “Sports Illustrated” piece in which he doubts Woods’ ability to recapture his aura of invincibility and describes the 2010-11 version of Tiger as “an ordinary golfer.”
“I wasn’t playing against Tiger Woods when he had that aura,” Mcllroy wrote. “I was watching on TV! I remember getting nervous when I first met him. I was 15. There was a presence about him. There still is to some extent, but when you’re on the golf course you simply block it out.
“But Tiger is not playing as well as he was even a couple of years ago, never mind going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was at his best. I’m not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did. He never seemed like he would make a mistake.
“It’s not that he’s playing badly. He’s simply playing badly by Tiger’s standards. He’s playing like an ordinary golfer. People expect more of him because of what he has achieved. As much as I would love to have the success that Tiger has had on the golf course, I wouldn’t want to live his life.”
Ranked eighth in the world, McIlroy is likely to become world number one himself if he can turn his immense talent into victories.
But he believes that if he does go on and achieve that goal by winning major championships, he won’t have to cocoon himself behind the gates of a Florida estate.
“If I earn the No. 1 ranking, it would be important to remember where I am from and to stay loyal to my roots in Belfast,” McIlroy said. “I can still go to the pub to watch Manchester United on TV with my mates….. It does feel a little like I have won the lottery, but I have a great lifestyle in Northern Ireland. And it’s one I never want to lose….”
Woods might counter than McIlroy has enough problems of his won. But McIlroy is hoping to bounce back from his 8 and 7 hammering by Ben Crane in last week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play when he tees it up in this week’s Honda Classic at the PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens.
Seven of the world ranking’s top 13 are taking part with 10th ranked Matt Kuchar the leading American in a field that features Lee Westwood (2nd), Luke Donald (3rd), Graeme McDowell (4th), McIlroy (8th), Ernie Els (12th) and Ian Poulter (13th).
As for McIlroy’s comments on Woods, Westwood believes that his stablemate is betraying the innocence of youth.
“That’s the answer that a 21-year old would give,” Westwood said of his McIlroy’s column in Sports Illustrated. “A 37-year old is a little wiser….There is an old saying that class is permanent, form is fickle. He [Tiger] is the classiest player I have ever played with and I’d be wise enough to know not to write him off.”
Westwood added with a grin: “I’ll have a word with Rory later.”