THE bromance is blossoming. To the extent, in fact, that Tiger Woods actually seemed happy to talk about something for once. Grilled mercilessly about Rory McIlroy, he didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.
It helped, of course, that McIlroy had just joined Tiger in the “Nike family” after his mega-money move to the company was confirmed at a glitzy ceremony here in the UAE capital on Monday night. The duo appear in a humorous advert to mark McIlroy’s equipment switch and have been paired together in the opening two rounds of the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship starting tomorrow.
“It started here last year,” replied Woods to being asked about a natural chemistry that seemed to have developed between him and the Northern Irishman.
“I played the front nine with him on the Tuesday and I think we were then paired together for the first three days.
“Our relationship has certainly grown since then and, due to the fact we were both right up there in the rankings, we seemed to be getting paired together every week for a stretch. We’ve certainly hit it off and our friendship has gotten better. I like Rory as a person – he’s a really nice kid.”
With 23-year-old McIlroy about to join Woods in becoming a resident of Jupiter Island in Florida, the 14-times major winner said he envisaged the pair having a “few more dinners together” and “certainly hanging out a bit more”.
As for what the small talk might be, Woods said that would be down to McIlroy. “We haven’t really talked about advice or anything like that,” he added, though McIlroy later said he’d used those appearances alongside the American last year to “pick his brain about a few things”.
Woods added: “We’ve just had a good time and certainly give each other the needle quite a bit – that’s always fun. But, if he ever needs advice, then he knows I’m open to [give] it.”
Having watched McIlroy bounce back from a mini-slump in the middle of last season, when he missed three cuts in a row, including the Players Championship at Sawgrass and the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, Woods added: “He had a little spell there where he didn’t play well, but he went back to focusing and practising and, lo and behold, he had a huge end of the summer.”
Tomorrow, McIlroy and Woods – three times a winner here Martin Kaymer is the third member of the group – start their 2013 campaigns as the world No 1 and No 2 respectively.
The golfing world is holding its breath in anticipation of the two slugging it out for supremacy over the next few years.
This week’s event, for example, has been tagged as the “Return of the Giants” by the sponsors, but, as McIlroy had done the previous night, Woods tried to play down the hype surrounding their potential rivalry.
“It would be similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil [Mickelson] two years into my career,” he noted. “That wasn’t the case as it takes time. Over the course of my 17-year career, the only players I think I’ve had head-to-head duels with are Phil, Ernie [Els] and Vijay [Singh].
“I think that Rory and I have done that just once, at last year’s Honda Classic [where McIlroy won by two shots despite Woods’ eight-under-par closing round], so let’s give it time and see how it pans out.”