Rory McIlroy said this year that Tiger Woods was on the back nine of his career. Fair enough. The American, who turns 39 later this month, didn't disagree in a Morning Drive interview ahead of his Hero World Challenge at Isleworth, but he hinted that his experience will be his big asset as he heads down the stretch in his career.
Whether the current world No 24 eventually finds himself in a head to head with McIlroy for a major championship remains to be be seen.
The Nike pair have yet to have a direct battle on tour though Woods recalled how the 2012 Honda Classic when he posted a closing 62 to put pressure on McIlroy, who eventually won by two to become world No 1 for the first time.
"Well, we haven't actually battled yet, you know, that's the thing" Woods said about the possibility of battling McIlroy for supremacy going forward.
"We haven't gone head to head. When I've played well and won my five tournaments a year ago, he wasn't part of those events. And I wasn't part of his run this summer.
"So we've had I think only one tournament, being the Honda, but we were so displaced. I mean he was four or five holes behind me that he was in the driver's set. But we actually haven't battled yet and it's up to me to put myself there. He's going to play well, he's been playing well and he's going to continue to do that and I have to put myself back up there.
"As far as being on the back nine, I don't see myself playing at this level for another 20 more years. That puts me at 58 and still being the No 1 player in the word, that type of level, that's hard to do. I don't think anyone has ever done that before.
"But it is interesting to be in this position where I have so much more experience now though, which is nice. Going into events having those type of management skills, [knowing] how to play a round of golf, and I think that's going to serve me well going forward."
Woods returns after a four month injury lay off — he last played in the US PGA where McIlroy claimed his fourth major — by hosting an event benefiting his foundation at Isleworth in Florida. And he does so with a new swing and high hopes for the future.
hat limited Woods to only eight events last season when he missed the cut twice and withdrew from two others.
The former world No1 underwent back surgery in March and, despite long periods of rest and rehabilitation, could not return to full fitness.
He missed the Masters and US Open, withdrew from the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and missed the cut in the US PGA at Valhalla and then announced that he was parting company with swing coach Sean Foley and appointed as " swing consultant" in Chris Como.
Admitting that age and injury has forced him to re-think his swing, he looked leaner, fitter and more relaxed that he's been for year.
"I’m older,” Woods said. “Father Time is undefeated. We all eventually are losing some of the things we are able to do when we were younger.”
Explaining why he parted company with Foley and decided to try something new, he added: “We all have to make adaptations as athletes and we have to make adjustments. Like MJ [Michael Jordan] created a fade away. He couldn’t jump over everybody any more and he created a new way to score and get points.
“I’m the same way. I can’t blow it out there with some of the longer guys any more. Back when I was younger a long ball was 290 in the air. Now it’s 320, 325. I don’t have that.”
As a result he and Como have been studying video of his old swings, going as far as to borrow a VHS recorder from his mother.
“We looked at a lot of video from when I was a junior and in amateur golf,” said Woods about time spent with Como. “It was quite interesting to see where my swing was then and how much force I could generate with a very skinny frame. That’s kind of what we are getting back into. It feels great. It feels fantastic.”
Speaking to Golf Channel's Damon Hack on Wednesday with pal Notah Begay by his side, Woods explained why it took much soul searching during his injury layoff to decide where to go with his swing.
"It was mainly just thinking what direction to do I want to go with my game," Woods said. "I just went away from everybody and started thinking about my game and when the time was right, I was going to be open to possible teachers going forward. But at the time, I didn't have a plan of where I wanted to go.
"Part of the reason why Chris is more of a consultant because this is the vision that I want to see and what I want to have happen. Chris is very aligned in sync and how we are going to get there is the process. We are putting pieces together."
Begay explained how he had sat down with Woods many times to talk about the origin of his swing DNA, or the building blocks that had allowed Woods to win 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour events.
"We both agreed that somewhere in the early and mid-90s where he really found a groove and a sound fundamental base from which to work off. How to get there was the biggest question and so both Tiger and myself went on separate paths to interview people and talk to people about their philosophies and how to get as much information as possible and it really came down to Chris not having to change anything he stood for and aligning with where Tiger wanted to go with Tiger orchestrating all of the decisions with regard to his mechanics."
Woods looked back at his younger self and wondered how he created so much speed and power with such a wiry frame. After much forensic analysis, the result is a return to a new version of his mid-90s swing.
"It's something that's old but new and it feels exciting because it is something I have done in the past and my body started to recognise it," Woods said. "And as I put my body into certain positions, it started to express itself and hit certain shots. I was;t even trying or thinking about doing it. My body just did it because it did it so long ago, it just started recognising the patterns."