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Tiger Not Yet Ready to Anoint Rory
Tiger Woods is undeniably impressed with the play of newly crowned No. 1, Rory McIlroy. After all, the 22-year-old Northern Irishman ascended to the top spot in the World Golf Ranking Monday after winning last week's Honda Classic in steady but spectacular fashion.
McIlroy's victory, his third in America, was by two strokes over Tom Gillis and Woods, who closed with a scintillating 8-under 62 to rise up the leaderboard and put pressure on the young Ulsterman, who closed with five straight clutch pars to secure the title. It was Woods' best finish in a full-field Tour event since winning the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
At age 21, Woods became the youngest player ever to ascend to golf's No. 1 ranking; McIlroy is the second-youngest. Tiger's performance last week in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., moved the 14-time major champion to 16th in the latest rankings.
Woods, McIlroy and most of the world's best players are in Miami for the $8.5 million WGC-Cadillac Championship, which starts Thursday at TPC Blue Monster at Doral Resort. During a Wednesday sit-down with reporters, Woods was asked about McIlroy.
Woods recognizes the young player's fantastic skills, but after going through pro golf's wars for the past 16 years, the 71-time Tour winner knows McIlory has a long way to go before he can etch his name alongside the best-ever to play the game.
"He has fantastic talent, and he made a few mistakes but he recovered every time," Woods said of McIlroy's performance at TPC National's Champion course. "And you're not going to play perfectly all the time, people don't realize that. You're going to make mistakes, which he did, and that's fine. He recovered and if you look at it, he missed on the correct side each time. 14, he hit it to the right, that's the only place you can miss it, and same with 15 and same with 17. He did all of the things that you needed to do.
"He's got to continue to get better, because everyone else is," Woods added. "Everyone else is out here working hard to become a better golfer, and more consistent player. And he didn't get here by not practicing. So continue to do what he's doing and I'm sure he's done a lot of different things. He's working on his game. He's working on his fitness and all that is compiled a pretty good record."
Here's what else Woods told reporters at Doral.
MODERATOR: Tiger, welcome back to Doral. Get some comments on a great week at the Honda and your thoughts on this week.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it was a good week. I hit a bunch of good shots, and made a nice little run at them on Sunday, which was good. But we are here, a new week, a new tournament site and looking forward to it.
Q. Since they redid the greens here, you have not putted as well as you did previously. Are you getting more comfortable with that, and is that do you think the main reason why it's not what it used to be for you?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it's just the old reads. The grain is different, and each year I've got a little bit better at reading them. But you know, two years from now, they are going to have another pair of greens, and another golf course to learn all over again. Just the nature of the business. People make changes.
Q. When you have made swing changes in the past, you've talked sometimes about having a moment where you kind of knew it clicked in. Was Sunday one of those, or had it come before that, and that was just the fruits of all the work?
TIGER WOODS: Well, Bob, I think it's more the work I did end of last year in tournament golf, how important the way I played in Australia was, the exhibitions leading up to that, and the way I played those two weeks. That's what allowed me to win at the World Challenge and one of the reasons why I've hit the ball as well as I have this year, and I didn't felt so comfortable when the wind was howling on Sunday because of what I did in Oz those two weeks when it was blowing a gale.
Q. What's the biggest challenge in carrying over a really low round on Sunday to the following Thursday?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's a whole new golf course. It doesn't count. That tournament's over with, whether you missed the cut or win the tournament, it's over. Now we are on to a new week, a new golf course, and have to learn it and be ready by Thursday.
Q. Speaking of Australia, how much harder does the wind blow in West Palm compared to Orlando, steadiness and openness and things like that?
TIGER WOODS: I would have to say it does blow a little bit more. We certainly get more rain than we do up in Orlando, but I think that it normally doesn't blow until the afternoons in Orlando. But for some reason, on the coast, it just blows all the time.
Q. Has that been a help?
TIGER WOODS: I think moving to Florida has helped. But moving from Orlando to West Palm has been about the same as far as practicing. But moving out of Cali was a big change with how much wind we play down here.
Q. You committed a couple of days ago to play Arnie's tournament again, just going there and your success and how much you like going to see Mr. Palmer.
TIGER WOODS: Going to Arnold's tournament has always been fun. It's neat to have Arnold associated with the event, and with what he's done for the community and the hospital, obviously my two kids were born at Winnie. So it's awfully important for us as players to honor that and honor what he's done as a player, and what he does for the community.
Q. What do you like about the changes he's done there in the last couple of years? I saw him a couple of days ago, and he said it's really matured since.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I think the greens have certainly matured. The greens are usually pretty springy and I think some of the changes he's made, especially on 2, very positive changes. That green was not exactly the most receptive, hitting a long iron to, and most of the guys were rolling off the back but he raised it up a little bit. And also the changes he made at 16 green have been very months.
Q. Golf is at this really cool juncture now where you have players in their 40s playing very well, your generation, 20s, it's very rare for any sport to see three generations like that. What is that like to be part of that and be right in the middle of that as a player?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I was a part of it when I first came out. I was in my 20s, and you had Greg (Norman) and (Nick) Faldo and Nick (Price) all in their 40s all doing great. Bernhard, Ollie - Ollie was in his 30s. But this is the nature of golf, is that we have playing careers that last - where the guys can win in their 20s all the way up to their 50s out here on Tour, or close to it. We saw what Tom Watson almost did. So I think it's just the nature of the business, because we are able to play for so long that you are going to have these generations.
Q. Do you feel that you ushered in the era of 20-somethings feeling as if they could excel right away. Hunter said he still remembers your interview with Curtis Strange, when Curtis was saying, a top 5 finish would be okay and you're like, "I am out here to win."
TIGER WOODS: I read that interview, too.
Q. Do you feel like you played a role in the Rorys and Keegan Bradleys coming out here and feeling no fear and no reservations?
TIGER WOODS: I don't know if I have. I think that's a question you're going to have to ask them, but I certainly have my approach, and my attitude towards competing and playing. I think it would be - we would all find it an asinine comment for someone to say they are going to a football game saying, I'm hoping I finish top two or going to a basketball game, if we lose, no big deal, it's all right, finish second tonight. That would be crazy to hear, and why would that be crazy to hear in golf.
Q. What did you do the last two days? Touch a club at all?
TIGER WOODS: I was at home working. I was at home and at Medalist and in my backyard.
Q. Because you're coming off such a low round, does that further give you a thought in your mind, the swing is good, going to find some other things, chipping -
TIGER WOODS: I'm in a position now where I can start dedicating a little more time to other aspects of my game. But still I can't neglect what I do on the range. But I can also start delegating a little bit more time to my chipping and my putting, and the short game itself, because I understand the whole concept of what Sean is trying to get me to do. And I understand the numbers now, and now the feel is starting to equate to the proper numbers.
Q. Are there ledges you want to conquer in taking a full swing - when you're going at it, feel comfortable, but when you have to feel something, still working on that?
TIGER WOODS: No, it just takes time. We had to dedicate so much time to driving, and getting the ball in the fairway. Hence, I'm No. 1 in total driving. We fixed that. Now it's on to other aspects of the game. You have to take up and focus on the weaknesses make them their strengths. And we've done that, and we still have some more weaknesses to look at and to fix.
Q. Do you feel that you're on track for, let's say, Augusta?
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely.
Q. Do you get a sense that this is perhaps the most exciting time in golf since you were ripping it up in 2000?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think every year is exciting for me.
Q. But a general sense, with yourself and all of these kids.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, but you know, I've been in the same situation before. It was Vijay (Singh), myself and Phil (Mickelson), and Ernie (Els) were all going at it for a number of years, and Goose. So now it's just a different crop of guys.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the 12th at Augusta. Have you ever stood on that tee feeling comfortable?
TIGER WOODS: Feeling comfortable? Absolutely. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Every time.
Q. What's the easiest pin?
TIGER WOODS: I'd probably have to say just dead on the bunker, because if it's front left or back right, anything short is wet. But if you're over the top of the bunker, you can put the ball in either bunker. You have a cushion on both sides, long or short, and you can still make par there. The front left or back right, short is no good.
Q. Do you have any thought when you go to the tee how you play the hole?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I understand having the two flags blow the same direction, but that rarely ever happens. I remember playing there with Davis (Love III) one year and he hit 6 iron. It was howling in our face, and he hit 6 iron and it flew up in the trees. And I hit the same 6 iron and it landed a foot in the front bunker. Just got the wrong gust at the wrong time. But it's just a very difficult hole. I mean, there's really no way around it. You have to hit a good slot. But also, you have to time up the wind just properly.
Q. In terms of nervousness or a scare factor, whatever, what's the difference between 12 and 17 at Sawgrass? If you had to protect a lead coming down the stretch, which hole would you rather play?
TIGER WOODS: 17.
Q. Talking about the Masters, why do you think we are not seeing so many minority caddies on the PGA Tour now?
TIGER WOODS: Well, we don't have the same caddie program now. The advent of the golf cart has changed things quite dramatically. I think that's one reason why we don't have as much minority involvement in the game of golf. When I was younger, still single digits in age, we had a few African American players out here. That's no longer the case. And I think it's just that we don't have the same caddie programs and hence don't have the same access. That's one of the things that The First Tee and other organizations are trying to address. And obviously with the financial difficulty that's going on in our economy, golf is not cheap. I mean, it's very easy to go play other sports. Very cost effective, but golf's not.
Q. What do you like about the 18th hole there at Bay Hill? Obviously it's been very dramatic for you winning there.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it's turned out all right for me over the years. There are some years it has not been but also some years it's been very good to me. It's just a challenge. The tee shot is pretty expansive, pretty wide, but if you miss that fairway, you can't get to the green. But the second shot, you have to be precise and you have to understand where you're going to be committed to, what line and I think that's the hard part is being committed to the line because the pin is over on the right, and it's just so easy to tug it left but then now you've got a tough putt or an impossible bunker shot.
Q. How special is it when you win a golf tournament there, or you don't win there, but you walking up the hill and you see Mr. Palmer, what is that like?
TIGER WOODS: It's just neat to see him around for the week. We don't get a chance to see him that often, and it's nice to have him as part of the whole week in itself, not just the 18th green. I remember playing the Byron Nelson for a number of years and having Mr. Nelson be on that first tee, that was pretty cool. And to have Arnold be a part of the week and see him in the locker room having lunch and chatting with the guys, that's pretty neat. Because we don't get to see that obviously very often, and they are certain tournaments where it has been pretty prevalent, Arnold, and also Jack (Nicklaus) and Mr. Nelson.
Q. Knowing how hard it is to win majors, being in it as much as you've been, what kind of perspective can you give to what Keegan Bradley did, winning a major in his first try?
TIGER WOODS: That's pretty impressive, isn't it. The one thing that comes to mind is what Fuzzy (Zoeller) did at Augusta, but I think he might have played previous majors prior to that. To come out of the blocks in your first time - yeah, Jason (Day) made a few mistakes, but also, I mean, Keegan really put it on him at the end, make him work for it and forced his hand. That's what's amazing to me is that he was able to play that well for the first time he's ever been there. He handled the situation fantastically. And even when they both hit it tight there in the playoff at 16, he made the putt.
Q. When you're not playing at a Tour event, do you watch the weekend, do you watch on Sunday to see how people are doing?
TIGER WOODS: I do if my friends are up there. I've found that most of the guys that I grew up with and have become very close to over the years are now on the senior circuit. So I watch them quite a bit. Text them are a lot and obviously I get some pretty good responses back.
Q. What did Rory show you those last six holes on Sunday, what did he show you that you didn't know about him before?
TIGER WOODS: Oh, I already knew all that. He has fantastic talent, and he made a few mistakes but he recovered every time. And you're not going to play perfectly all the time, people don't realize that. You're going to make mistakes, which he did, and that's fine. He recovered and if you look at it, he missed on the correct side each time. 14, he hit it to the right, that's the only place you can miss it, and same with 15 and same with 17. He did all of the things that you needed to do.
Q. Nobody can relate to being No. 1 in the world at the age of 21 or 22 the way that he can; now that McIlroy is at the top of the summit, what do you say to him as far as any advice you would impart to him about how to stay there and knowing him and knowing his game, do you think he has staying power the way that you have?
TIGER WOODS: Well, he's got to continue to get better, because everyone else is. Everyone else is out here working hard to become a better golfer, and more consistent player. And he didn't get here by not practicing. So continue to do what he's doing and I'm sure he's done a lot of different things. He's working on his game. He's working on his fitness and all that is compiled a pretty good record.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.