Rory McIlroy believes that Tiger Woods faces "a long road back" after learning that the 14-time major winner underwent his third back surgery in 18 months last Wednesday.
"I saw that last night," said McIlroy after a third successive 67 at the Turkish Airlines Open left him tied for third with Kiradech Aphibarnrat on 15 under par, a stroke behind leaders Victor Dubuisson and Jaco Van Zyl at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Belek.
"I think any time you touch your back it is tough. It looks like it is a long road to recovery for him and I just hope he gets better, not just to play golf but just for everyday life and being able to do everyday things more than anything else."
With Woods set to turn 40 in December, there are doubts that he will ever be the same again.
But while McIlroy refused to write him off completely, he is clearly concerned for a childhood idol who has become a friend.
"That's his third back surgery in just over a year and like someone once said, the best way to avoid your fifth back surgery is not to do the first one. But it's a procedure he needed, he needed it. I just hope he gets better."
Agreeing the Woods' self-assessment as a stubborn person, McIlroy said: "I know. He has that mindset that he can overcome things and he has overcome things before.
"But as I said. I think it will be a long road ahead."
Asked if he was missed by the players, McIlroy said: "He is missed by the game of golf in general. I am not sure the players miss being beaten by him every week. The game of golf, we were so ducky and so privileged to have him spearheading our sport for so long.
"To have a global icon like that. I am not saying that the game needs him but he came along at the right time and did a lot for the game."
It was a day that went from a low to a high for McIlroy, who three putted the third and then followed birdies at the fourth and sixth with a frustrating three putt at the 10th.
He threw his putter at his bag in frustration there but got his round going again with a pitch and putt birdie at the 11th followed by a spectacular eagle three at the 13th and birdies at the par-three 14th, and par-five 18th.
"I don't know why. I just felt very lethargic out there today," Mcilroy said. "Couldn't really get any energy. To finish the way I did was very pleasing. I didn't get off to a great start and I needed to dig in deep and finish the round off well, which I did."
The spark was the eagle own the 13th, where he hit a towering four iron over trees and one of the floodlight pylons that hit the upslope short of the tight front pin and trickled up to just over a yard short of the hole.
"No, I couldn't [see the pin]," he said of his 229-yard four-iron. "I picked a line somewhere. Had to go a little bit right of one of the floodlights. So just had to make sure I missed the floodlight and I knew it would be an okay shot. But yeah, I couldn't see the pin. I was lucky it landed into the upslope and then just trundled on, I think. I didn't see it. But I can imagine that's the only way I can get it to stop there.
"That second shot in there was probably partly luck and partly a good shot. It's tough to stop it where that pin is, but to be able to make three there I thought was a big bonus. And to birdie the hole afterwards was nice, as well. So that definitely turned the day around a bit."
After a two on the 14th got him to within a couple of shots of the lead, he hit the 18th in two having struggled for his par five on the first two days and almost holed a 50 footer for birdie.
"It's nice not to hit it in a bush or not hit it somewhere where you have to hit it left-handed," he said of his troubles on Friday and Thursday respectively.
"I thought for a second it was going left again and thankfully it just caught the right side of the slope for me. It was nice to make four at the last and nice to get another shot towards the lead. I'm not sure what the lead is going to be at the end of the day, but yeah, I won't be too far away going into tomorrow.
"I mean, I'll go out there with the mind-set that I need to beat [20 under] to have a chance to win. So, yeah, the 67s I've shot this week have been a little different and I feel like I've played within myself for all of them. So I feel there's a low round out there for me and hopefully it's tomorrow."
Asked if he turned frustration into motivation with that putter throw, he said: "I did, yeah. I felt like today -- it wasn't great start for me. I didn't get off to the start that I wanted to. I struggled to get any sort of energy going. I don't know, the bogey on 10 was a bit of -- yeah, that was good to turn frustration into motivation and to play well those next few holes. Definitely the eagle on 3 was the spark that I needed to sort of get myself up the leaderboard."
On his putting, he said: "I felt like I missed some; I held some. It was okay. Some of the pin positions out there were very tricky, like double-breakers.
"Sometimes hard to commit to a read just because it was going one way at the start and then going another way at the end, and it was hard to really pick that one spot that you wanted to roll it over.
"But for the most part, I felt like I've putted okay. You have to putt decent to be 15-under par after three rounds. But missed a couple that I probably shouldn't have today, but I'm not going to let that get to me.
"I'm seeing putts go in the hole. At least I'm holing some. So it's not like I'm missing everything that I look at out there."
It was a frustrating day at the office for Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell though the Clara man is just seven shots off the lead on tied 12th on nine under,
As McDowell slipped to tied 16th on eight under after a disappointing 73, Lowry moved up seven place to tied 12th on nine under.
The world No 17 was playing alongside Byeong Hun An and after watching the Korean fire a 65 to get to tied fifth on 13 under and was understandably frustrated to shoot no better than 69 having followed a birdie at the third with an eagle three at the fourth following a six iron to 20 feet.
The problem was the short fifth, where he made double after dumping his tee shot in the lake right of the green.
"That double bogey just killed my momentum," Lowry said. "I had 220 trying to hit a 5-iron into the left and went ahead of it and didn’t catch it, done everything wrong, into the water and made double."
With Ian Poulter insisting he'd end up hanging from a tree if he doesn’t find a way to play the fifth, Lowry was also counting the cost of previous disasters there.
"I have missed the green both days and got up and down and that’s the way to play it," he said. "I mean, you are trying to hit it in the fat part of the green. But for me who favours a draw at the minute it is tough to hit that shot. It sets up for a guy that cuts it cuts if off the left trap, and that’s just the way it is.
"It is the hardest hole on the course by far. It’s a horrible hole, because the green kind of sits like that (slopes from front to back), you pitch the middle of the green, it goes over the back. It would be a great hole if it was 20 yards shorter and they tucked the pin up the right.
"It’s a hard hole, just one of those. Yesterday 230 yards, today 220 yards. All I wanted to do was make par and you’d be happy enough."
As for the rest of his round, he was left to rue bogeys at the ninth and 14th and a failure to get up and down for birdie from just off the edge of the par-five 18th.
But he was also pleased to make an eagle and five birdies on an average day.
"It was very disappointing not to get that one on the last," he said. "I’d a horrible lie with my third shot off the green. I was afraid of chipping it down the far side of the green (over the spine) and that’s why I came up a bit short.
"I don’t feel like I played well. I don’t feel like I am playing well. My confidence is not great, to be in the position I am in not playing great is good, it’s positive and I am going to go again hit a few balls and see if I can find something."
Victory might be beyond him but Lowry is still in with a chance of a huge cheque.
"I think I am a bit too far behind," he said. "You can shoot nine-under, 10 under if you go mad. It is all about trying to get off to a good start and to keep it."
Michael Hoey is tied 69th on three over after a 72 with Darren Clarke two strokes further back after 75.