By Brian Keogh
Rory McIlroy. Photo by Golffile
Rory McIlroy might not be composing a requiem for Tiger Woods but he admitted we may be it may witnessing “the end of seeing the genius at work with a club in his hand.”
The world number eight is looking to bounce back from his first missed cut in 19 months at this week’s WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession, admitting he was “unprepared” to compete in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.
But when it came to Woods’ horrific road traffic accident and the smashed right leg and shattered ankle that have left the 15-time Major winner’s golfing future in major doubt, he dismissed all talk of another Tiger comeback as utterly premature.
“He's not Superman,” McIlroy said. “He's a human being at the end of the day. And he's already been through so much. At this stage, I think everyone should just be grateful that he's here, that he's alive, that his kids haven't lost their dad. That's the most important thing.
“Golf is so far from the equation right now, it's not even on the map at this point.”
When asked if the player had spoken about “paying tribute” to Woods was exasperated.
“You say ‘pay tribute to him.’ He's not gone. He's been in a very bad accident. We're very lucky that he's still here. I feel like we should pay tribute to him every day for being on the PGA Tour and what he's done for golf.”
McIlroy has become close to Woods in recent years and still marvels how he could come back to win the 2019 Masters just two years after seeing him at his lowest ebb.
“To this day, people don't realise — a few of us out here do, JT, Rickie, Dustin and myself, the guys that are in Florida that have gotten a little bit closer with him— the struggle and the things he had to deal with to get to that point to win Augusta in 2019.
“Look, I don't want to take anything away from what Ben Hogan did after his car crash or any of the other comebacks that athletes have had in other sports, but right now I can't think of any greater comeback in sports than the journey that he made from that lunch we had in 2017 to winning the Masters a couple of years later.”
He added: “It's inevitable that one day he won't be a part of it, and that's going to be just something that the game of golf and the Tour is going to have to deal with and adapt to…
“We might… it may be the end of seeing the genius at work with a club in his hand, but there's still a lot of other ways that he can affect the game in a great way.”
McIlroy tees it up with Genesis Invitational winner Max Homa and the struggling Justin Thomas (16:31 Irish time) looking to continue his habit of bouncing back spectacularly from missed cuts
“The last two missed cuts I've had, I went and played well,” he said. “I won Canada and I bounced back after Portrush and got into the final group at a World Golf Championship.
“It's funny, it's going to sound really weird, I worked so hard the week before Riviera in that week off, but I felt so unprepared to play, if that makes sense.
“I stood on the range for hours a day hitting golf balls and working on my swing, but didn't play golf. Didn't chip, didn't putt, didn't do any of the things that you need to do to shoot scores.”
Shane Lowry. Photo by Golffile
Shane Lowry has had two weeks off since the Saudi International and after a slow start to the year, he’s looking to hit the ground running as he plays five events in a row before the Masters,
“You have two WGC’s, The Players and the Masters in seven weeks, so it's a time when you'd love to hit some form,” said Lowry, who tees it up with Matthew Wolff and potential Ryder Cup teammate Victor Perez (17:04 Irish time). “I have been working hard and doing my thing. I am going out preparing as best I can and I'm hopeful everything will click into place at the right times over the next few weeks.
“I know, if I put myself there, I can do something special. Every week over the next seven weeks is a huge opportunity to do something really good.
“I mention four tournaments but the other two are Bay Hill, which is a huge event and the Honda Classic as well. It's a huge six-seven weeks in golf and I am excited for it.”
As for Woods’ accident, the Offaly man said: “I am sure everybody knows what Tiger has done for our game. The reason we are out here playing for all the money we are and being as successful as we are is because of Tiger Woods in my opinion.
“First things first, you feel for him and hope he gets through it okay and hopefully he gets through this and the surgery and gets back walking.
“Then you hope he comes back and plays a game. First and foremost it's him and his health and his family and friends and you hope he pulls through it for everyone.”
In the Puerto Rico Open, Padraig Harrington joins Bo Van Pelt and Ricky Barnes (11:17 Irish time) as Seamus Power tees it up with Johnson Wagner and Bronson Burgoon (11:06 Irish time) looking to end a run of three missed cuts in a row.
Harrington is hoping to use his wind skills to his advantage on what he described as a demanding resort course In his weekly tournament preview on Twitter but he also had words for Woods.
“It would be remiss on me not to mention Tiger,” Harrington said. “Obviously all of the golfing world is thinking about Tiger and hoping for a speedy and healthy recovery, that he gets back to his family and everything goes well that way. In terms of golf, I’m sure he’ll use Ben Hogan as motivation and him coming back from his crash.
“I think he went on to win six more majors after that. There’s certainly something there for Tiger to motivate him if he wants to get back to golf, knowing that somebody did it before him.”
Meanwhile, Stephanie Meadow will begin the new LPGA Tour season alongside Korea's Jeongeun Lee and Chinas Jing Yan in the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona (16:30 Irish time) as Leona Maguire partners Tiffany Joh and Thailand's Wichanee Meechai (17:58 Irish time).