Gofling greats Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods recall their golfing inspirations ahead of next week’s Masters.
FLORIDA, USA (NIKE VNR) – The prospect of a career grand slam for world number one Rory McIlroy and uncertainty over the state of Tiger Woods’ game have dominated the build-up to this week’s Masters at Augusta National.
McIlroy will be bidding for his third consecutive victory in a major, and his first Green Jacket at the picturesque ‘Cathedral of Pines’ in Georgia, to complete a full set of all four of golf’s blue riband events.
Four-times Masters champion Woods, meanwhile, ended weeks of speculation on Friday (April 3) when he announced he will compete at Augusta National, having struggled badly in his two tournament starts this season.
Hobbled by back problems and poor play this year, the 39-year-old Woods made the decision to go for his 15th major title after his second visit of the week to the famed Georgia course.
The Masters, the first major of the year, begins on Thursday (April 9) and will end a two-month absence from tournament play for the former world number one.
The 25-year-old McIlroy is the pre-tournament favourite at the Masters, and as the two golfing stars got together during the filming of a commercial in Florida recently, the world number one recalled how he was inspired by Woods.
Woods, aged 21, became the tournament’s youngest champion in 1997 in stunning fashion with a record low total of 18-under-par 270 and a record winning margin of 12 strokes.
“I really looked up to Tiger as a kid. You know I first watched him in the U.S. Amateur in ’96, I remember when he made his debut as a pro in the middle, towards the end of ’96, and then obviously getting the win at the Masters, his first major, in ’97, you know he sort of became, if he wasn’t then he became one of the greatest athletes of his generation and he inspired a lot of kids and definitely inspired me to try to become a better golfer so, yeah someone I really looked up to and it’s really cool now to be able to do things like this with him,” McIlroy said.
Four years ago, McIlroy squandered a four-shot lead heading into the final round as he closed with a nightmarish 80, but he immediately rebounded from that meltdown with his first major victory at the U.S. Open two months later.
McIlroy has since added two PGA Championship crowns (in 2012 and 2014) and the British Open (2014), leaving him poised to become the seventh career grand slam winner following Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen.
“To think that not so long ago I was that little boy watching him on T.V. to where I am now it’s been a pretty cool journey and you know I’m very lucky to be able to have done that and get close to him and learn some stuff off him too, you know he is the, he’s definitely the best player that I have ever seen and to be able to spend some time with him and maybe pick some things up and learn from him is something that I feel will help me a lot as well,” said McIlroy.
Woods turned professional when he was just 20 years of age and throughout his career has been instrumental in widening the appeal of golf throughout the world, a feat that McIlroy is hoping to emulate.
“Tiger definitely created a ripple effect and I think, I would like to think that I am doing the same thing, maybe not quite to the extent as Tiger did it because he brought so many more people into the game and it’s really what golf needed at that time, you know there was a real injection of life back into the sport so I might not be able to cause a ripple effect quite like he did but I feel like I’m doing pretty good at the minute and you know if I can inspire kids to pick up a club and start to play then you know I feel like I’ve done a good job,” said McIlroy.
Woods said he was inspired by golfing great Jack Nicklaus, and remembered him winning the Masters in 1986 for the sixth time and the effect it had on him.
“My first recollection of the Masters was ’86 when Jack (Nicklaus) won, I’ll never forget him hitting that 4-iron into 15,” said Woods.
“And then him making the putt at 17 and lifting the putter up. Then I played with him in 2000 in the PGA Championship and so I got a chance to play with and against someone that I looked up to and you know Rory’s on, and I’m on the flip side of that and so it’s neat because I’ve been a part of different generations of competitors.” Woods said.
“Rory – one of the first things he ever saw was me playing in the Masters and winning the Masters. It’s a weird feeling because I look at all the guys on the senior tour because those are the guys I played against and I know but now it’s flipped, I’m one of the veterans and I’m coming up on my 20th year on tour.”
Woods, who has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open and his most recent Masters victory came 10 years ago, said that one of the changes in golf over the years has been the athletisim of the competitors.
“These kids all hit long, they all bomb it, Rory’s – I always kid him, he’s only like 5’2″ and hits it 330 so that’s what’s out there. These kids are athletic. You know Rory can play other sports, look at other guys now, you get guys who are bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic, take care of themselves, where golf used to be like a leisurely pasttime, now it’s considered a sport and people are training like that and that’s neat to see,” Woods said.