Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Woods: McIlroy will only get better

Rory McIlroy joined Nike on Monday
Rory McIlroy joined Nike on Monday

Probably for the first time in his life Tiger Woods faced the media and had to answer more questions about another player than he did about himself.

The player in question was, of course, his new Nike stablemate Rory McIlroy - the undisputed current world number one and the man signed in a deal that it is thought could be worth as much as £250million.

McIlroy, unveiled as the new face of the company on Monday night, and Woods are back in the Middle East for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starting on Thursday. Woods has no problem talking about the undoubted talent of McIlroy. "He drives beautifully, he's a beautiful iron player and when he gets the putter rolling he makes a lot of putts," he said.

The event in Abu Dhabi is where they finished second and third respectively last year, Woods having been out-scored head-by-head by surprise winner Robert Rock in the final round. The American was only 25th in the world at the time, but went on to win three times on the PGA Tour and returns now as the nearest challenger to McIlroy on the rankings.

The 23-year-old Northern Irishman has a massive lead, however, and will stay number one even if he misses the cut on Friday and Woods win the title two days later.

Woods added: "He has proved he can make big putts, winning a couple of majors by large margins. He has all the tools and is only going to get better at it."

McIlroy's first major victory came by eight strokes at the 2011 US Open and he repeated that margin at last August's USPGA Championship. Woods has not added to his 14 majors since the 2008 US Open, but the potential rivalry between him and McIlroy has all the makings of shaping the coming season.

A year ago they had hardly played together, but they were partners for the first three rounds in this tournament and were repeatedly back together later in the season - although not at the Ryder Cup for the second match running. Their meetings included a big-money duel in China which McIlroy won, but Woods has come out on top most times they have faced each other.

He describes himself as there to assist McIlroy whenever he might want some advice - "we have certainly hit it off and our relationship has grown" - but says he had nothing to do with him joining him at Nike.

"He's a big boy. He can figure it out on his own," Woods said. "Nike has been fantastic with their innovation over the years - that's the main reason I switched to their ball and different equipment."

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