Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods renew friendly rivalry in Abu Dhabi
Played 3 rounds together in last year's tournament
The world's top golfers meet more often on the course, but neither No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy nor Tiger Woods are ready to call it a rivalry.
They're paired together for the first two rounds of Abu Dhabi Golf Championship starting on Thursday. They've established a friendly relationship since playing together for the first three rounds of last year's tournament.
For a more heated rivalry to emerge, they both agreed they need to face each other on Sunday with a tournament at stake. It has yet to happen, although Woods did make a run at McIlroy in last year's Honda Classic with a birdie-eagle finish.
"It would be similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil (Mickelson) two years into my career. That wasn't the case. It takes time," Woods said on Tuesday.
"Over the course of my career, I've gone head-to-head against Ernie (Els) and Vijay (Singh) the most and that has happened over 17 years," he said. "But it takes time. Certainly we've done it once at Honda. ... But we really haven't had the amount of matches or head-to-head duels with Phil and Vijay and Ernie. But then again, it's only been a few years. Let's give it time and see how it pans out."
'Battling each other'
"I don't know if you can call it a rivalry yet because we haven't battled each other down the stretch of a major," McIlroy said. "It's not like we have been playing in the final group of a tournament and we are battling each other. Hopefully at some point that can happen this year and it would be great to be part of that."
Woods and McIlroy will pair off again this week.
"We've certainly hit it off, and our relationship has grown and our friendship's gotten better," Woods said. "We've just had a good time. Certainly give each other the needle quite a bit. That's always fun."
'A huge hero'
McIlroy said the relationship in many ways is built on mutual respect.
"Before this time last year, we would say hello in passing but not really anything else. I think once Tiger sort of gets to know you and trusts you, I guess, and lets you in, then it's great," McIlroy said.
"It's great to just spend time with him and pick his brain about a few things if I feel I need to, but it's a relationship that's definitely based on respect, because you know, he's been a huge hero of mine growing up and he's done some incredible things in golf. I think he respects me for what I've done on the golf course, too. So it's good."
The two often chat about sports. McIlroy said recently he also has sought out Woods about handling the increased demands off the course. McIlroy struggled briefly last year to find time to practice and looked for new goals after reaching No. 1.
"This past summer he had a little bit of a spell there where he didn't play well. Went back to focusing and practicing, and lo and behold, he had a huge end of the summer," said Woods, adding he had similar difficulties a year after turning pro.
"That's just something that we've all had to go through, we've all learned. It's tough sometimes, it really is," he said. "When you have success, there are more responsibilities that are at a tournament site and more distractions that are at a tournament site that are taking you away from what you like to do, which is compete and play."
But when it comes to the golf course, McIlroy said jokingly the friendship would go out the window should that encounter take place.
"He is going to try and beat my brains out. I know that," McIlroy said. "I'm trying to do the same."
He says he's accustomed to others' expectations of him winning every tournament he enters.
"I've always had high expectations of myself, and every time I come into a tournament, I want to feel like I have a chance to win," McIlroy said. "And if people think I have more of a chance to win than anyone else, that's fine, but I know that I'm going to have to play really good golf this week to have a chance."