Rory McIlroy looking to bounce back
Tiger Woods nurses back injury
Rory McIlroy keeps a close eye on a tee shot during yesterday’s practice round at Trump National Doral. Photograph: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
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 number one – 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.
‘Hurt like hell’
“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 23rd.
“I was off my ankle for about a week over new years. 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.
Easier to swallow
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 number six 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.”
McIlroy is joined in Miami by Graeme McDowell who found the new Blue Monster longer 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.”