Tiger Woods: On Masters prep, Rory McIlroy, and the duo's match-play “final”

Ross Kinnaird

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have struck up a camaraderie that some observers (see: Nick Faldo) find troubling given their on-course rivalry for golf supremacy.

Not so, Tiger, who invited his young pal over to his Florida club for their own match-play “final” after both exited abruptly from the official event taking place across the country. The host of what could become a regular series of home-and-home outings with his new neighbor, however, suggested that scribes not read too much into their chumminess.

“He's a friend of mine. He just happens to be the No. 1 player in the world. That's about it,” Woods told reporters after Wednesday’s pro-am ahead of Thursday’s start to the 2013 Honda Classic.

Woods lost to old buddy Charles Howell III in the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, while McIlroy’s long-time mate Shane Lowry sent him packing as well. The two encountered each other in the parking lot at Dove Mountain, acknowledged that neither had a weekend tee time, and arranged the golf date via text.

“We figured 'let's get a game sometime,’” Woods said, referring to a companionship that blossomed after the two played their first three rounds of 2012 together in Abu Dhabi and then several times over the course of the season. “We were kind of hoping it wouldn't be that Sunday but we were both free and we went out and played. We played a quick 36 and he headed off to do whatever he needed to do and I went back home and did some more training.”

The old-school Sir Nick would likely not approve.

“I never lunched with -- I guarantee Seve [Ballesteros]...Greg [Norman], we would not be sitting having lunch together,” Faldo harrumphed after the duo dined together prior to The Barclays in August. “We would not be sitting having lunch together. We used to jostle...on the range. We did far more sparring that way.”

Relax, big fella. Woods observed that the relationship brewing between No. 1 and No. 2 was not that big a deal.

“I don't think it's quite at the same level as I was with Mark [O'Meara] and Cook-y [John Cook],” Woods said about two close confidants who took him “under their wing” when he first turned pro. “We went out to dinner all the time and basically traveled together on tour. Went fishing all the time, whether that's here in Florida, whether it's to Alaska. We did a bunch of vacations and trips together.

“They were like my big brothers at the time and they basically still are,” said Woods, who, at 37, could certainly play that role for the 23-year-old McIlroy. “So it's a different type of relationship for sure.”

While not quite copping to serving as the younger golfer’s mentor, Tiger said the two had discussed the “process” involved in switching golf gear. McIlroy has struggled with his driver and irons in the three competitive rounds he’s played this season since inking a lucrative deal with Woods’ sponsor, Nike.

“I went through equipment changes over the years but as I said it's over the years,” said Woods, noting that several players had made “wholesale changes,” some with great success and others not so much.

“I think Ernie [Els] has played for every company there is,” he said with a laugh. “Rory, he’s going through the process” that involves evaluating launch conditions, spin rate, and “any kind of data you want.”

With the first leg of the Florida swing considered the unofficial launch to the pre-Masters season, Woods said he would “definitely” get to Augusta to check out the tweaks to the course and play 18 or 36 holes before teeing off for real in the year’s first major on April 11.

“I'd like to get out there and take a look at it. They made a couple little changes here and there,” he said. “I would like to chart those and get that all situated so I don't have to do any charting during the tournament week.”

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