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Rory McIlroy desperate for Tiger Woods to appear at Masters

By James Corrigan

Tiger Woods is expected to release a statement in the next few days, concerning the injury which forced his withdrawal from the WGC Cadillac Championship on Sunday.

The former world No 1 will decide on his participation at the Masters in three weeks' time after being examined by specialists in Florida.

This nervous wait is a familiar scenario for the game, which has repeatedly been without its main draw in the last four years. Woods has undergone four operations on his left knee and although his latest setback is being cited as a "puffed up" Achilles, the concerns over his attendance at the season's first major and beyond are as obvious as they are understandable.

Following the dramatic Doral finale on Sunday, which saw Rory McIlroy finish third behind England's Justin Rose, the young Ulsterman was backed into heavy favouritism for Augusta. Yet like all but the very bitter, McIlroy is praying Woods will be there to tee it up in the first week of April.

"It's a shame because he looked like he was coming out this year, swinging it really well, playing good, getting himself into contention," McIlroy said. "It's probably just precautionary, but I really hope he's healthy for the Masters because it would be a great week with him there."

For Woods the pain may well be mental as well as physical. It is such a blow because he was adamant that the injuries were behind him. Last year, after withdrawing from the Players Championship at Sawgrass after 42 shots and nine holes, he took three months off in his determination to sort out his left leg issues "once and for all". On Saturday, when asked whether there were any problems with his fitness as he played his third week in a row, Woods replied: "Oh, I feel great."

Woods had finally felt able to put in the hours on the range that he required to help his new swing bed in. If he does have to adhere to a "strict ball count", as he calls it, all the recent progress, which featured a 62 to finish second at the Honda Classic nine days ago, will be in danger of being wasted. Square one is a wretched place he thought he had abandoned for good.

It is little wonder that so many experts are feeling brave enough to predict that the 36-year-old will fall shy of the five majors he needs to overhaul Jack Nicklaus's record. As Nick Faldo said at the weekend, it is hard to see Woods winning one major at the moment, never mind a handful.

If only Woods had only to think about an unfulfilled future. The present is depressing enough. If the doctors tell him it is a mild strain and merely to apply ice for a week, he will only have to miss next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational – as that event is run by his former agency, IMG, it wouldn't greatly bother him. But a more negative prognosis, say a 10-week recovery, would see him absent from the Masters for the first time in his 16-year professional career.

Skipping golf heaven would be hell for Woods, who has won four green jackets. "He has finished fourth there in the last two years despite struggling with his game," said Rose. "Augusta suits nobody more. This isn't good news. Hopefully he was just holding himself back for the Masters and didn't want to do any more damage."

Yesterday, Rose was back at his home in Orlando, celebrating the biggest win of his career. With four wins in the last 20 months, there isn't a more prolific man on the PGA Tour. But with all the attention staying on McIlroy and Woods, Rose believes he can creep in under the radar in Georgia.

"I'm actually in the perfect spot," said the new world No 7. "The expectations are not too high but I feel my ability is good enough to get the job done. I've learnt enough to believe I have a realistic shot every time I tee it up in a major. I have now won a couple of big tournaments, where you get that major championship feel with the big crowd. The next step up is to take it to Augusta."

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