Woods or no Woods it’s still the Masters, says McIlroy
World number seven says absence of Tiger a shame but Augusta National event not diminished
Rory McIlroy: surprised Tiger Woods’ back injury was serious enough to warrant surgery. Photograph: Larry W Smith/EPA
Any sense that the appeal of this year’s Masters has been instantly reduced by news of Tiger Woods’s absence has been contradicted by another of the event’s top attractions, Rory McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman, who has a bit to go before reaching Woods’s status but can reasonably claim to be the second best in the sport although currently ranked No7 in the world, said: “Look, it’s a shame for him, a shame for the Masters and a shame for golf. But the Masters will still be the Masters even though he won’t be there.”
McIlroy was not surprised by Tuesday’s confirmation that Woods, who is undergoing rehabilitation following back surgery carried out in Utah on Monday, will miss the Masters for the first time since 1995. The 24-year-old two-times major winner did, however, raise an eyebrow at the fact that Woods’s condition had been so acute that he had required an operation for a pinched nerve.
“It [the withdrawal] didn’t come as a shock,” McIlroy said. “He has been struggling since the back end of last year. I didn’t expect him to play the Masters knowing how he has been struggling but I was surprised to see that he needed to have an operation. I didn’t know it was that bad. But at the end of the day this is golf, his health is much more important, he has to sort that out.”
Further comment concerning Woods has hardly been lacking. Tom Watson, who will captain the United States in the Ryder Cup against Europe at Gleneagles in September, all but assured Woods of a wildcard pick in the likely event that the 14-times major winner fails to qualify automatically. “I just hope he’s healthy enough to be able to play,” Watson said.
Hank Haney, Woods’s former coach, has been critical of the world No1’s approach in recent times. He believes the player he tutored from 2004 to 2010 will have to alter his swing to manage back issues.
“Knowing the way he thinks and reacts, he’s going to find the easiest way that he can to swing with his back, which will probably mean he makes some changes to his swing,” Haney said.
“He’ll make adjustments. He’s good at that. He’s not scared to change. He’s not scared to try something different. The real question is, will he have the desire to practise, put in the work, and will his body allow him to do it? I think those are the two issues.
“If he gets out there and he has the ability to practise and he does put in the time, I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to continue to play great golf. When I didn’t hear that he was practising, then I thought the Masters wasn’t looking too good no matter what. But obviously this is a much bigger setback than one tournament.”
McIlroy arrived in Texas on Tuesday night for the Houston Open, an event which may well be disrupted over the weekend by bad weather, after a three-week break from competition during which he worked with his swing and fitness coaches, Michael Bannon and Steve McGregor.
“Last week we had a really good, hard week, doing all our final prep work for the Masters,” McIlroy said. “So I feel good and excited that the majors are about to begin again. It feels like a long time since the last one but I feel like I’m in great shape going into them this time.”
McIlroy spent the early part of this week at Augusta National, where a notable topic has been the removal of the famous Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole after it was severely damaged by a storm.
“The drive on 17th is now much easier,” said McIlroy. “They haven’t done anything about [replacing] the tree. Not that it is a different shot but you don’t have that massive tree looking at you and so it’s not as intimidating visually and an easier hole as a result.
“Of course being Augusta, if you didn’t know about the tree, you’d just think nothing had ever been there.” –