Patient McIlroy awaits wounded Tiger
  Tiger Woods enjoying a laugh with Rory McIlroy at the 2013 WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. Photo: Kenneth E Dennis /

 Tiger Woods enjoying a laugh with Rory McIlroy at the 2013 WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. Photo: Kenneth E Dennis /

Email interviews are never quite the same and yet Rory McIlroy's replies to questions from The National ahead of the 25th anniversary edition of the Omega Dubai Desert are remarkably eloquent. And revealing.

It certainly reads nothing like one of those verbatim interview transcripts we are handed at tournaments around the world and either McIlroy has been polishing up his writing skills or the hand of someone from Rory McIlroy Inc is clearly present.

Calling Dubai his ‘home from home’, he writes:

"That affinity stemmed from my time here as an amateur and has stayed with me ever since."

Affinity? Stemmed? Not quite the kind of language we are used to hearing from McIlroy, who felt he was denied victory in Abu Dhabi just last Sunday having incurred a two-shot penalty the previous day for failing to take full relief having opted to take advantage of a free drop from a spectator crossing.

"There are a lot of stupid rules in golf and this is one of them," he said before going on to finish second.

His Dubai appearance will reunite him with Nike-stablemate Tiger Woods - a player he followed inside the ropes in Dubai in 2006 after he'd missed the cut as an amateur. Borrowing a photographer's camera, the then 16-year Holywood wanted to see what made his idol tick, feel his presence and hear his shots fizz.

Rory McIlroy's 2009 win in Dubai was his first as a professional

He told The National's John McAuley: “Ha, that was a little cheeky. I was young and in awe of all Tiger had done so, just in case the opportunity didn’t come my way again, I thought I’d push my luck a bit. It was worth it to see for myself Tiger’s great ball-striking and get a sense of the presence he has on the course."

Woods will arrive in Dubai after one of the worst rounds of his PGA Tour career at Torrey Pines on Saturday, where he shot a seven over 79 to miss the third round cut in an event he has won seven times. Though not an official missed cut -  MDF (missed cut, did not finish) - it was still the second worst score of his career after the 81 he posted in the third round of the 2002 Open at Muirfield. It was, however, his worst on US soil. 

That Woods should fail to birdie a par five in three rounds at a Torrey Pines course where he also won the most recent of his 14 major titles, the 2008 US Open, is more than surprising and adds a little extra juice to his forthcoming meeting with McIlroy at the Emirates Course in Dubai, where he won the title in 2006 and 2008.

In reply to The National on Woods and their rivalry,  "McIlroy" wrote: "Perhaps more than any other golfers, there are times when our schedules dictate joint ventures and time in each other’s company....”

What is clear is that McIlroy's first professional win in the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic was a huge milestone for him after he had let several European Tour victories slip through his fingers in 2008. Recalling the winning putt, he explained:

"The image of my putt rolling in on 18 is etched on my mind. It was fast, downhill, but I’d played a great bunker shot to get to within a few feet. That gave me some confidence standing over the putt. Having had chances in the past and not taken them, I knew how important it was to put it to bed; I felt it was my time..... Call it naivety, eagerness or being a little overzealous, but at 19 my desire to compete against the best in the world gave me a determination to succeed. I can say with complete honesty there exists very little difference between then and now, yet with one notable exception: patience."

McIlroy is answering these questions but one wonders why someone felt it necessary to give them the full PR "treatment."  

It's a management move we might associate with Woods, who is clearly not anywhere near as intimidating as the 30-year old man that a 16-year old McIlroy ran out to watch eight years ago.

The world No 1 confessed  in San Diego last week that he's certainly more limited physically these days. 

“I'm still able to generate the same amount of clubhead speed as I did when I was younger, it's just that I can't do it every shot anymore,” Woods said last week. “I don't have the rotational speed that I used to, and that's a fact of aging.”

During his annus horribilis of 2013, McIlroy compared his career to a round of golf and equated his season to a bad third hole. 

Asked at his World Challenge last December what hole he was playing in his 18-hole career, Woods said: "I'm front nine."

Saturday's aberration at Torrey Pines was just one round and it remains to be seen if it was anything more than a one-off. What is clear is that McIlroy is not rounding the turn in his career and Woods, while still a player he admires, is no longer a man who intimidates him.

Having thrown the World Challenge away with some weak iron play over the closing stretch last December, one wondered how much trepidation Woods would have about 2014. Does he ever wonder if the game will be there when he returns?

Q.  ...Do you have more or less trepidation about your game as you go into the new season, more or less confidence, more or less belief?
TIGER WOODS:  Well, I've done well at Torrey Pines.  I've done pretty good.  That's my first tournament back. 

Q.  Is there ever any doubt there, I mean as you start a new year?
TIGER WOODS:  Of course there is.  I mean I've come off of long breaks.  I've come off of surgeries, you know, whatever it may be.  I've had my share of off seasons, and I can tell you one thing, I'm looking forward to this one.

On the evidence of what we've seen so far in 2014, McIlroy has come out of this off season the stronger man in every way.