Tiger and Rory smile through the pain barrier
Last year - Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods shake hands at Doral. Picture: Fran Caffrey /  www.golffile.ie ..

Last year - Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods shake hands at Doral. Picture: Fran Caffrey / www.golffile.ie ..

Both smiled and joked their way through their first press conferences after Sunday disappointments at the Honda Classic but while Rory McIlroy was full of the resilience of youth as he came to terms with his collapse, Tiger Woods knows that his ailing back will offer few shots at redemption if he does not take steps to manage his latest ailment.

Set to turn 39 at the end of this year and with the clock ticking on his bid to surpass Jack Nicklaus in the record books, the world No 1 — he could even lose that spot if Adam Scott wins this week — has one eye on the Masters and another on his future.

"We have taken a really good look at it and really tried to come up with a plan so that I can compete and play and be ready and try and win my fifth jacket," Wood said of the Masters.

The first part of that plan involved merely walking the revamped Blue Monster layout yesterday, reducing his activity to chipping and putting having hit only a handful of balls no more than 60 yards since walking off with back spasms after just 13 holes on Sunday.

While he could put up with the pain of his old knee or leg injuries, his back injury is more serious in that it prevents him from twisting and turning.

In short, he found it easier to play with a broken leg than a bad back.

"The will to win hasn't changed," Woods said, giving an amazing impact into his psyche. "It's physically, am I able to do it. There are times when I've learned this through the injuries that I've had. A bad back is something that is no joke.

"When I had my injuries over the years, it was always after impact. So it's fine; the ball's gone. It's going to hurt like hell, but the ball's gone.

"So I can do my job and deliver the club and deliver the final moment to the ball and hit the shot I want to hit. It's just going to hurt like hell afterwards. I played that way for years.

"But with the back, it's a totally different deal. There are certain moments, certain movements you just can't do. That's one of the things I've started to learn about this type of injury; it's very different."

McIlroy also suffered from lower back pain early in his career and decided to hit the gym in a serious way in 2011 to strengthen his core and avoid those injuries.

He revealed yesterday that casual kick-abouts with his friends are now also out after he secretly sprained his ankle playing football in Holywood on December 23.

"I was off my ankle for about a week over New Year's. But apart from that, I feel healthy, again, touch wood," he said. "It wasn't a worry. It was a worry, I went over on it, and I went in goal and I shouldn't have gone in goal either.

"I was standing up about half an hour and it really hurt. It was fine. I stayed off it for a week and it was okay. It’s probably not a good idea to play anymore."

Sunday’s Honda Classic finale was far more painful for McIlroy, who admitted that he gets too "emotionally attached" to how he plays the game and has a tendency to get down on himself "very easily."

"I've been playing this game 22 years, basically, so holding a golf club is as natural a feeling to me as anything else in the world," he said. "So when things don't go quite right, it's harder for me to get over than, say, I don't know, whatever else that happens in my life.

"Golf, obviously it's a big thing in my life, and when it isn't quite the way I want it, it's not a panic, but I really want to get it back on right track as soon as I can."

What irritated him most about his four over 74 in Palm Beach Gardens was the way he played coming down the stretch, dumping a fairway bunker shot in a lake at the 16th to lose to lead and then bogeying the next.

"It obviously wasn't what I would have liked but there were plenty of positives because it was my third strokeplay event of the year, and third chance to win," he said.

What made Sunday easier to swallow was that spectacular, 245-yard five wood to the 18th that gave him an 11 foot eagle putt for the title that he eventually missed.

"It's probably up there best [shots] that I've hit under pressure," he said. "I don't think I can think of any other ones where I've needed it and been able to pull it off like that. 

"I was just disappointed with how I played coming down the stretch. It obviously wasn't what I would have liked." 

The world No 6 insists he’s not disappointed when he doesn’t win every week but like Woods, he wants to contend every time.

As for questions over his ability under pressure, he admitted that he simply didn’t commit to his shots last Sunday and struggled to cut the ball into the wind.

He said: "I haven't watched it back at all but I had a really good practice session yesterday just working on the shot that I struggled with coming down the stretch, which was just that little holdup shot."

McIlroy is joined in Miami by Graeme McDowell who was hugely impressed by the changed but found the new Blue Monster longer, and tougher, than ever.

"It’s much tougher, definitely much more difficult because of the firmness, the length, the water in play," McDowell said. "It’s not going to be a birdie-fest and you are just going to have to grind and two-putt and chip and putt."

Factfile - World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship

  • Where: Trump National Doral – Blue Monster, Doral, Fla. Par/Yards: 36-36=72/ 7,481 yards
  • Field: 69 players from 19 players qualified via the 50 from the Official World Golf Ranking; top 30 from the 2013 FedExCup; top 10 from the 2014 FedExCup; top 20 from the 2013 European Tour Race to Dubai; top 10 from the 2014 European Tour Race to Dubai; top two players from the 2013 Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit, Australasian Tour Order of Merit and Asian Tour Order of Merit. For the first time since the 2012 US PGA; all of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking will play in the same event.
  • Format: 72 holes strokeplay, no cut
  • Defending Champion: Tiger Woods 66 65 67 71 269
  • Purse: $9,000,000; Winner’s Share: $1.53 million
  • Twitter: @CadillacChamp
  • Facebook: www.Facebook.com/CadillacChampionship
  • Last year: Tiger Woods finished two strokes clear of Steve Stricker to win his 76th career PGA Tour event and his seventh WGC-Cadillac Championship. He had just 100 putts. Graeme McDowell double bogeyed the last to finish tied for third with Rory McIlroy tied eighth.
  • Woods has seven victories (1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2013) in 13 career starts at the Cadillac Championship. He also has 79 career PGA Tour victories, three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record of 82.
  • Rory McIlory has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three years at the Cadillac Championship (2011-T10, 2012-3rd 2013-T8). In 20 career World Golf Championships events, McIlroy has 12 top-10 finishes.
  • Of the 69 players, 31 are from the United States. The next largest contingent comes from South Africa with eight. Australia and England each have four players. Spain (3), Italy (2), South Korea (2), Northern Ireland (2), Sweden (2), Thailand (2), Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Scotland, Wales and Zimbabwe round out the field.
  • There are 21 players making their first-career Cadillac Championship start. They are Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Jonas Blixt, Roberto Castro, Brendon de Jonge, Graham DeLaet, Victor Dubuisson, Harris English, Darren Fichardt, Scott Hend, Billy Horschel, Jin Jeong, Hyung-Sung Kim, Chris Kirk, Joost Luiten, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Brett Rumford, Jordan Spieth, Peter Uihlein, Dawie van der Walt and Jimmy Walker. Castro, de Jonge and van der Waltare playing in their first-ever World Golf Championships event.
  • The course - New owner Donald Trump brought in renowned architect Gil Hanse to completely revamp the Blue Monster Course last year. It is now 215 yards longer and measures 7,481 yards with major changes made to almost every holes. The par-five first is more than 40 yards longer at 572 yards with water now in play to the right of the green. The par three ninth can play as long as 200 yards to a new green moved moved closer to the 18th, creating a new amphitheater of grandstands surrounding both the 18th and 9th greens. The 10th tee was moved significantly to the left offering a risk reward drive over the lake to a hole that now measures 614 yards.
  • The finish is also much tougher with the par three 15th reduced from a boring, 175-yard challenge to 153 yard shot to a peninsula green.The 16th was also shortened from 372 yards to 341. Players have a better view of the green with a number of trees removed, but water now comes closer to the green making this a true risk-reward hole.
  • The 18th is largely unchanged though more palm trees have been added on the right to put more of a premium on accuracy off the tee.
  • Weather: Today - Mostly cloudy and breezy with a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms. Low 69F, High 83F. Winds S to WSW 10-15 mph. Tomorrow - Partly cloudy, breezy, cooler and less humid. Low 64 F. High 77F. Winds: W shifting NW 10-20 mph. Saturday - Cool start. Sunny skies and breezy. Low 59F High 78F. Winds N shifting ENE 10-15 mph. Sunday - Mostly sunny. Low 65F, High 81F. Winds E 5-10 mph.

Selected tee-times (Irish time, US unless stated)

Today (Friday) 1st tee (10th tee)

  • 1644 (1750) Jamie Donaldson (Wal), Hunter Mahan, Peter Uihlein
  • 1706 (1611) Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk, Webb Simpson
  • 1717 (1622) Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell (NIr) 
  • 1728 (1633) Justin Rose (Eng), Zach Johnson, Sergio Garcia (Esp) 
  • 1739 (1644) Tiger Woods, Adam Scott (Aus), Henrik Stenson (Swe)

10th tee (1st tee) 

  • 1611 (1717) Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Luke Donald (Eng)
  • 1622 (1728) Charl Schwartzel (SAf), Jason Dufner, Ian Poulter (Eng)
  • 1633 (1739) Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spite
  • 1644 (1750) Jason Day (Aus), Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy (NIr).