Rory McIlroy still hopes to go ‘down the stretch’ with Tiger Woods
‘You always want to put yourself against the best and Tiger has been the best ... for 15-20 years’
Rory McIlroy: ‘Obviously things have changed for the better off the course. Getting engaged to Caroline (Wozniacki) has been fantastic. We’re planning the wedding and all that stuff already so that is something exciting to look forward to.’ Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy is not of a mind to join in the latest discussion over the supposed demise of Tiger Woods. The golfing year got off to an inauspicious start for Woods, who failed to reach the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at the weekend.
He had previously won eight times at Torrey Pines but on this occasion slumped to six over after 54 holes. Those struggles, added to Woods’s own admission that age has taken its toll on his swing, should in theory offer hope to other players. Yet McIlroy, who will meet Woods at this week’s Dubai Desert Classic, insists going head to head with his idol is still his golfing pinnacle.
“Of course that excites me,” McIlroy said. “I grew up dreaming of a scenario like that, taking on Tiger down the stretch of a major. Taking him on down the stretch at any tournament, in fact.
“It hasn’t quite happened yet; we have sort of been in contention a few times without having a battle. You always want to put yourself against the best and Tiger has been the best in this game for the last 15-20 years.
“It’s great to have him here (in Dubai). He got off to a bit of a slow start to the season so he will be wanting to make up for that this week. I think he has still got a few good years left so I am looking forward to battling with him down the stretch a few times.”
There is no question that McIlroy is in a positive mood. Speaking as he opened a Nike Golf store in the Dubai Mall, he revealed that his new year engagement to the tennis player Caroline Wozniacki has already gone beyond the handing over of a ring.
“Obviously things have changed for the better off the course. Getting engaged to Caroline has been fantastic,” McIlroy said. “We’re planning the wedding and all that stuff already so that is something exciting to look forward to.”
McIlroy finished second in the HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi after suffering a two-stroke penalty for a rules infraction. The 24-year-old remained in Dubai to practise after that event and will do so again after the culmination of the 25th anniversary Desert Classic.
To his credit, McIlroy preferred to focus on the need for short-game improvement rather than any brush with officialdom. The addition of a 52-degree wedge means he has four – the others with lofts of 47, 54 and 59 – in his bag.
“I have started off the year well,” McIlroy said. “I was a little disappointed coming off the second place in Abu Dhabi. I felt like I should have won but there were a lot of positives to take from the week. I played very well. I felt like I could have done a few things better which I have worked on over the last week to go into this tournament in Dubai but all in all I am in a good place and really looking forward to 2014.
“Wedge play has been a big thing. I have added that extra wedge into my bag instead of a three-iron. I figured the distance I am hitting the ball just now, I am going to be hitting more wedges into greens than three-irons. To be able to give myself more variety from 150 yards in I have added that extra wedge.
“I just thought if I could have got my wedges a little closer in Abu Dhabi, it would have made a difference.”
There was even time for a McIlroy assessment of a disappointing season thus far for his beloved Manchester United. Improvement, he reckons, is imminent.
“Juan Mata I think is going to be a great signing and is going to give them a bit of a lift,” he said. “I think Wayne Rooney is going to sign for another four years, which will be great, and then hopefully they are going to get this French guy, (Yohan) Cabaye (Newcastle United), in the summer.”