As the most decorated golfer since the Tiger Woods era, and a player who grew up idolising the American, Rory McIlroy is well qualified to comment on the great man’s admission that he may never play again.
‘If this is it, he’s been the greatest that I’ve ever seen,’ said McIlroy.
‘I didn’t see Jack Nicklaus play. I know he has a better record, but I don’t know if he played better golf.’
Rory McIlroy says Tiger Woods is the greatest player that he has ever seen play
Woods, America’s vice captain in the Presidents Cup, said he may not play competitively again
He added: ‘If he never comes back, Tiger has nothing to prove.
‘I don’t think there’s been a single figure who’s done more in terms of bringing different groups into the game — different ethnicities and different age groups.
‘He made golf cool when it really needed an injection of something. Everyone should just applaud what a great career he’s had.’
It is clear Tiger’s baton has now passed to McIlroy in terms of worldwide appeal.
It was evident again yesterday on a splendid autumn morning for the first round of the British Masters at Close House, near Newcastle.
It is 12 years since they had top-class golf in the North East and thousands turned out for Rory and the rest.
McIlroy said no one had done more in terms of reaching out to different groups than Woods
The Northern Irishman was taking part in the British Masters at Close House, Newcastle
On his eighth hole, the 17th on the card, McIlroy had cause to be grateful he was the centre of attention after his tee shot veered way off line.
‘I thought it was going to be like the Open all over again,’ he said, referring to the ball he lost on the 15th hole at Royal Birkdale. More than three of the five minutes allowed had passed when one of the many fans who had joined in the search came up with the magic words: ‘Found it!’
Instead of a near certain double bogey, McIlroy escaped with a fortunate par.
He finished with a useful 67, four off the lead posted by South African George Coetzee and Englishman Tyrrell Hatton.
‘It’s just lovely to feel comfortable with my swing again,’ said Hatton after a troublesome summer in which he missed five cuts in a row. ‘It was a really good day.’
Tournament host Lee Westwood had a good day, too, with a bogey-free 66, four better than his playing partner, Masters champion Sergio Garcia.
Accompanying McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick — who had his breakthrough win on tour in this event two years ago — posted a 66, as did Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter.