Improving Rory McIlroy will win by end of year, says Tiger Woods

‘He is playing better and swinging a lot better’

 Tiger Woods and  Rory McIlroy at the Blackstone Course, Mission Hills, China,  on Monday.  Photograph:  Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at the Blackstone Course, Mission Hills, China, on Monday. Photograph: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Wed, Oct 30, 2013, 01:00

Tiger Woods believes Rory McIlroy is slowly getting his golf game back on track and predicted yesterday that the former world number one would claim a breakthrough first victory of the year by the end of December.

McIlroy was on top of the world at the end of 2012, having won the orders of merit on both sides of the Atlantic, but he has had a turbulent season this year on and off the course.

The Northern Irishman changed his clubs in January, a switch that was criticised by several pundits. He is also in the middle of a bitter court dispute with his former management team and, according to media reports, has split from girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.

“He is playing better and swinging a lot better,” 14-times Major champion Woods said. “You can see that some of the stuff he and his coach are working on are starting to come together.

“He’s starting to put together a few good rounds, now he just has to make a few more putts. I can definitely see him winning sometime this year because his game has come around.”

World number one Woods had a close-up view of McIlroy when he lost to the twice Major winner in a lucrative head-to-head exhibition match on China’s Hainan Island on Monday.

The two golfers are both based in Florida and the 37-year-old American said he and world number six McIlroy had formed an excellent relationship. “Rory has become a good friend of mine over probably the past year, year and a half,” explained Woods. “It seems like every tournament we’re paired together, we’re also playing practice rounds together and we have really hit it off.”

Woods has taken full advantage of the 24-year-old McIlroy’s form slump, returning to the top of the world rankings with five victories this season.

None of his 2013 wins have come in the big four championships but he left little room for doubt that he still yearns to break the 18-Major record of compatriot Jack Nicklaus. “It took him until he got to 46 to do it and this year I’ll be 38 so there’s plenty of time,” said Woods.