Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy played to a 1-1 tie in their own version of the final round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play on Sunday -- except golf’s Nos. 1 and 2 did so on the cozy confines of Tiger’s home course in Florida.
“We thought we’d play our own match play final, except it was over 36 [holes],” McIlroy told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of this week’s defense of his Honda Classic title. In the two matches, the Nike twins, each of whom lost in the first round of last week's tourney, played each other evenly in two lightening rounds that took no more than five and a half hours.
“We had two matches; he beat me the first time and I beat him the second, so we’re even,” McIlroy said. “We teed off about 8 [a.m. ET] and I was home by 1:30, so we played quick. He putts with the pin in. It was speed golf, it was really enjoyable.”
Not so enjoyable, perhaps, was the drumbeat of questions about McIlroy’s all-too-public struggles with his new Nike clubs. The most recent and reportedly highest-priced member of the swoosh society missed the cut in his first outing of the season in Abu Dhabi in January largely due to a a slew of errant tee shots. A month later, rightward-leaning iron shots led to Shane Lowry bouncing his friend out of match play on day one.
“It’s okay,” he said resignedly to the first query about how he was doing with his new sticks. “Obviously I was disappointed last week not to get further in the match play. I saw some positives afterwards. I drove the ball a lot better. I missed too many irons shots to take advantage of that driving.
McIlroy suggested that naysayers might want to step back and take a breath.
“Everything is fine,” he said. “I knew coming into it was going to be a bit of a process. I knew there was going to be comments made if it didn’t happen for me right away.
“I’m only two tournaments into the season, I’ve still got more than 20 to go,” McIlroy added. “It’s not like I’m in any rush to -- it’s not like I’m pushing for answers, looking for answers, everything’s there; it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
In response to the question, “Are we making too much of it, then?” McIlroy was quick with a sharp rejoinder.
“Yeah, of course,” he said to nervous laughter from the gathered scribes -- and perhaps picturing constant critic Nick Faldo in his mind's eye. “Like you always do. With everything.”
Even so, the inquiries kept on coming. Most interesting was McIlroy concession that he had developed some “bad habits” during his off-season. Essentially, he believed he was taking the club too far outside on the way back and coming inside too much on the downswing, which caused it to get “stuck” behind him.
“I’m trying to get more on line on the way back,” he said. “Your timing needs to be perfect...and when it’s not, you’re just slightly off.”
In describing his long relationship with Michael Bannon, his only coach since he was about nine years old, McIlroy sounded like the anti-Tiger.
“He keeps things very simple and I like that. I don’t like to get too technical,” said McIlroy, who’s philosophy could not be much more divergent from Woods’ practice of constant tinkering and discussions about technique and mechanics. “We always talk about feelings and, ‘What feeling did you have when you were playing well, what feeling did you have when you won here, what feeling did you have when you felt like you were hitting this type of shot?’”
When McIlroy noted that he never swung the club better than during his record-setting win at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, Bannon reminded him to go back to basics.
“He’s like, ‘Well what were you feeling there?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, you know just straight arm, left, straight back and turn through it, it was pretty simple,’” McIlroy recounted. “It’s just nice to have a coach who’s been with you the whole way through because they know your bad habits, they know everything about your swing. It’s just nice to have that long relationship and not be trying new things all the time and new theories and new philosophies.”
McIlroy said the two had worked on his swing over the past few days and he was ready for this week’s contest.
“It’s feeling better,” he said, “so we’ll see how it goes this week.”