European Tour

McIlroy rivalry 'needs time'

Tiger Woods (AFP)
Tiger Woods (AFP)

Abu Dhabi - Tiger Woods has played down talk of a big rivalry with Rory McIlroy, saying that the two first needed to cross swords at the business end of the majors before that could become a reality.

The two topped ranked golfers in the world have for a second straight year opted to tee off their seasons in the Gulf at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and they will be paired together in the opening two rounds.

It has all the hallmarks of a classic rivalry with the 37-year-old former kingpin Woods out to exact revenge on the 23-year-old upstart McIlroy who has taken away his crown.

But Woods insists that, for the moment, such talk is mere conjecture.

"It would be very similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil (Mickelson) two years into my career," he said. "That wasn't the case. It takes time."

"Over the course of my career, I've gone head-to-head against, I think Ernie (Els) and Vijay (Singh).

"That's happened, what, over 17 years, something like that that we've been going at it like that. But it takes time.

"You know we haven't really had the amount of matches that are head-to-head duels that I've had with Phil and Vijay and Ernie.

"But then again, it's only been a few years, so let's just give it time and see how it pans out."

What is for sure is that Woods will have noted the differences in the questions he has to field at press conferences.

Ahead of Thursday's opening round in Abu Dhabi, the American, more used to talking about himself, responded to a total of 20 questions, 15 of which concerned McIlroy.

What did he think of McIlroy's new mega-bucks deal with Nike? - How did he rate him as a rival? - Had he ever given him any advice? - How was the personal chemistry between them? - to name but a few.

Woods is unfailingly complimentary, saying: "We've certainly hit it off and our relationship has grown and our friendship's gotten better."

That however, will not be allowed to get in the way of his lifelong quest to match and then better Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18 major titles. Woods currently has 14, where he has been stuck for over four years since his win in the 2008 US Open.

Three out of the four majors this year suit his eye he says, while he has yet to play at Merion Golf Club, Pennsylvania, where the US Open will be held in June.

"Obviously I love Augusta (Masters). Muirfield (British Open) is a wonderful test; just happened to catch a bad day in 2002 on Saturday (shot 81). Oak Hill (USPGA) is one of the more difficult golf courses."

Most importantly, Woods says that he is feeling fully fit for the first time in a while and comfortable enough with the swing changes he has been adopting for the last year.

"Last year I had one little (injury) blip at Doral with my Achilles, but other than that, it was a good year physically.

"I was excited about being able to play a full schedule. I had not played a full schedule in a very long time, I think 2006, 2007, somewhere in there."

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