Tiger Woods said on Tuesday it was fun watching Rory McIlroy run away with the US Open this year and feels the Northern Irishman is a better player than he was at the tender golfing age of 22.
“That was pretty good, wasn’t it? That was some seriously good playing,” Woods told reporters at the AT&T National PGA event he is hosting this week at Aronimink Golf Club, Pennsylvania, US.
McIlroy set a number of US Open scoring records en route to an eight-shot win on 19 June that recalled Woods’ 12-shot triumph at the 1997 Masters as a 21-year-old and the American’s 15-shot win at the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach.
Matters of tennis: Golfer Rory McIlroy (right) chatting with John McEnroe (centre) and Andy Murray at Wimbledon on Tuesday. Reuters
“In 1997, when I was, what, 21, granted I had some success, but I didn’t like my golf swing. That’s why I changed it,” the 14-time major winner said when asked to compare himself with McIlroy. “I felt like at the same age, his swing is definitely better than mine was at the same age.
“But in 1999, my swing came together and I had a pretty good next two years,” Woods said about a period in his career that produced the so-called “Tiger Slam”, in which he held all four major championship titles at the same time.
“He needs to obviously continue working on it and continue getting better. He’s still young... so it’s fun to see someone who’s of that age play the way he did and handle himself the way he did after Augusta,” Woods added, referring to the Masters in April when McIlroy squandered a four-stroke lead in the final round.
“Hey, we’ve all fallen, we’ve all made mistakes and played poorly and lost tournaments... It’s fun to see someone apply what they’ve learned and succeed while doing it,” he added.
Woods said he was impressed by how McIlroy, now world No. 3, kept playing aggressively at the Congressional Country Club despite a big lead. “It was cool to see that he had softer conditions and he was able to go low but also was able to continue pushing it, and that’s what’s fun. When you have a lead, keep building on it and keep pushing,” said Woods.
While Woods was endorsing the Irishman’s talents, Mcllroy’s attention was on another sport altogether.
Across continents, in London, McIlroy told British tennis star Andy Murray that he was backing him to win Wimbledon, despite his friendship with title rival Rafael Nadal. The Northern Irishman was feted in the Centre Court royal box as he watched the women’s quarter-finals but took time to meet up with Murray on the practice courts as he prepared for his own last eight clash.
After his US Open win, McIlroy was hoping to inspire 24-year-old Murray. “He’s playing awesome. Just keep doing what you’re doing,” the golf star said as he visited the practice courts with US tennis legend John McEnroe.
“I’m a big tennis fan. I grew up watching Tim Henman at Wimbledon and cheering him on every summer. Now that’s passed over to Andy. We’re all behind him and hopefully he can win his first Grand Slam.”
McIlroy has forged a friendship with champion Nadal, the world No. 1, as well as Murray, but said if it came down to it, he wanted the Scot to win this year. “I’d love to see Andy get his first Slam. I felt myself once you get that first one out of the way, it’s a lot easier to go on and win more.”
Murray has been in three major finals but has yet to win his first Grand Slam. The world No. 4 said he took inspiration from McIlroy’s turnaround, the Irishman having blown a US Masters lead to hold out for victory in the US Open.
“It’s the way you come back from it. I’ve had a fair few upsets in major competitions and it makes a difference when someone comes back like that,” he said. Murray added that his family was golf crazy and he used to play a lot before it gave him back problems.
McEnroe said he plays golf rarely as it irks his famous temper. “My frustration level’s fairly high. I’ve been known to run out of clubs before the round’s over,” he said.
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