McIlroy, Woods Start Their Road to the Masters
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – This is not the rivalry anyone had in mind when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy began the year.
They made their debut in Abu Dhabi last month and both missed the cut. The next time they played in the same tournament was last week in the Match Play Championship, and both were eliminated in the first round.
The difference is that Woods returned to Torrey Pines the week after missing the cut. He left little reason for anyone to doubt his game when he built a lead that reached eight shots until the day dragged on and he won by four for his 75th career win on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy knew starting the year there would attention on his change from Titleist to Nike, and it only intensified with two bad results.
But the start of the Florida swing is no time to panic, and McIlroy sure didn’t sound worried at the Honda Classic.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I knew coming into (the year) it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew there was going to be comments if it didn’t happen for me right away,” McIlroy said. “I’m only two tournaments into the season. I’ve still 20 to go. So it’s not like I’m in any rush. It’s not like I’m pushing for answers. Everything is there. It’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
McIlroy put it together much sooner a year ago.
He was runner-up in Abu Dhabi, tied for fifth in Dubai, lost in the final of the Match Play Championship and then won the Honda Classic, making one clutch par save after another to hold off a late rally by Woods. McIlroy went to No. 1 by winning at PGA National, and he has been atop the world ranking since winning the PGA Championship.
How much longer he stays there depends on his game – and that of Woods, who is No. 2 and making up ground.
They are the featured players as the Florida swing gets under way Thursday in the Honda Classic, a tournament that has been rejuvenated in recent years with a couple of significant moves. One was the site of the tournament to PGA National, which has hosted a PGA Championship and a Ryder Cup and makes for good television with so much water in play over the closing holes.
The other was a vast improvement in the neighborhood. Woods moved to nearby Jupiter Island, while McIlroy, Lee Westwood and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel are located at Old Palm just down the road. Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and others also have moved to south Florida.
It turned out to be the right recipe to get a good field, though Woods and McIlroy are at the top of the list, especially with the Masters getting closer.
McIlroy is playing three times before he gets to the Masters – PGA National and Doral in back-to-back weeks, and then a two-week break before he plays the Houston Open.
Whether the Florida swing starts with the Honda Classic or Doral, as it once did, the feel of that warm, tropical breeze, palm trees, white bunkers and blue water hazards signal the first step toward the first major of the year. Only 34 players in the 144-man field are currently in the Masters.
The Honda Classic has five of the top 10 players in the world, including Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Justin Rose.
Not all the focus is on the road to the Masters. A divisive issue hanging over golf is the proposed rule that would ban anchored strokes used with long putters. The PGA Tour said last week it was opposed to the plan. Woods was among those who said the club should be swung freely, without being anchored to the body, and he stood by that.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to bifurcate or adapt a local rule like we sometimes out here on tour with stones and bunkers and things of that nature,” Woods said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to do that with our putter.”