Tiger Woods, who predicted in October that Rory McIlroy would end his prolonged winless skid before the end of the year, told reporters Wednesday he was pleased to see the two-time major champion triumph at last week’s Australian Open and understood what his friend endured during his lengthy funk.
"That’s just part of playing golf," Woods said ahead of this week’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. "You play golf long enough, you’re going to go through it."
After a year in which he endured endless criticism about switching from Titleist to Nike and struggled with his swing, McIlroy claimed his first victory since November 2012 by beating Adam Scott at the Aussie Open. Scott was on his way to winning all three elite events on home turf -- the Australian PGA, Masters, and Open -- when McIlroy stunned him on the final hole at Royal Sydney.
To Woods, the way McIlroy won -- defeating "probably the hottest player out here right now ... in his home country, trying to win the Triple Crown" -- was especially impressive.
"It was great to see Rory win a tournament," Woods said. "He's been working very hard on trying to make some changes in his game. Obviously, we all know about the equipment change, but he's made some adjustments in his golf swing as well.
"It's good to see him win, especially given how it all unfolded."
The outcome was clearly welcome, but McIlroy was encouraged more by how he’s been playing in the waning weeks of 2013.
"I knew my game was coming around, and that was the most important thing," McIlroy said. The comments came during his Wednesday chat with the media before he tees it up with his Northern Irish compatriot and defending World Challenge champion Graeme McDowell on Thursday.
"Obviously, it was nice to win and it was nice to get a win before the end of the season," said McIlroy, who compiled two recent top-10 finishes (a T6 at last month’s WGC-HSBC Champions followed by a T5 in Dubai) before heading Down Under. "Did I need the win? Probably not. Was it nice to get the win? Of course."
Whether McIlroy might be atop the leader board at Sherwood Country Club come Sunday evening could depend on a "tell" he suggested may foreshadow how his week will develop.
"If I play bad, I'll be in a bad mood. If I play well, I'll be in a good mood," he said about an aspect of his mental game he’s hoping to improve.
"I've sort of gotten really hard on myself if I haven't played well, and that's sort of carried through not just in my golf game, it's just how I am, my demeanor and everything," confided McIlroy, who notoriously withdrew from the Honda Classic in March and had his share of mental mishaps over the past season. "So that's something I feel like I've gotten better at and something I need to continue to get better at."
When pressed about his frame of mind following his win in Oz, McIlroy served warning that he may be the guy to yank the crown away from two-time World Challenge winner McDowell and keep Woods from notching his sixth win on the Thousand Oaks, Calif., track.
"Yeah, I’m in a great mood," he said. "I’m happy."
In other Tiger news, Woods said he did not yet know whether he would attend the Olympics in Sochi in February to cheer on his skiing sweetheart, Lindsey Vonn.
"It's day to day," Woods said, referring to the status of Vonn’s right knee, which she injured last month and tested Wednesday in a World Cup training run at Lake Louise, Canada. "We just don't know how her leg is going to be."
Vonn, who was a regular at Tiger's events this season after she and Woods went public with their relationship via social media, partially re-tore a surgically reconstructed ligament during training. Following Wednesday’s downhill test, the four-time overall World Cup champion pronounced her knee "stable," according to the Associated Press.
A Twitter enthusiast, Vonn has been urging Woods, an infrequent Twitter user, at best, to let his 3.7 million followers know more about what’s going on with Team Tiger.
"She certainly has hinted that, but I grew up in a different era and it's a little bit different for me," Woods said. He will be 38 on Dec. 30, and hasn't fully embraced social media like his 29-year-old girlfriend has. "I'm still a little bit old school. I'm kind of getting towards it, but still not quite grasping the whole concept yet.
"But I'll get there eventually."