Rory McIlroy has said that Tiger Woods remains his “hero” and hailed the American for taking golf to a “new level”.
The Northern Irishman has forged a close friendship with the 15-time major winner, with the pair partnering to form sports entertainment venture TMRW Sports.
McIlroy and Woods have been grouped together at the Genesis Open as the 47-year-old prepares to make his return to the course for the first time since last summer’s Open at St Andrews.
Speaking in Netflix’s new Full Swing documentary, McIlroy hailed Woods for the role he played in his own development, as well as in the sport more widely.
“I was obsessed with golf and when Tiger came on the scene, I just remember watching Tiger play golf on Sunday nights, because of the time difference,” McIlroy explained. “He sort of took it to a new level. He still is my hero and to a lot of people he is golf.
“I feel fortunate for the relationship we have, but ever since then I just… all I wanted to do was be like him. I was a cocky and arrogant kid, I told anybody who would listen I’d be the best golfer in the world.
“I’ve got to know Tiger well over the last decade. He’s one of the legends of the game. There’ll never be another Tiger for so many reasons. Not just his success on the golf course, but the barriers he was able to break down.
“He’s set a great example for a lot of us moving forward.”
Justin Thomas completes a star-studded three-ball of major winners for the opening two rounds at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California.
Woods has not played a non-major PGA Tour event since October 2020 having been hospitalized in early 2021 after a car crash.
Despite concerns over his fitness, the five-time Masters champion has insisted that he is “playing to win” the Genesis Invitational, which begins on Thursday.
Woods’ stint away from regular appearances on the Tour has coincided with the arrival of the breakaway LIV Golf series, which has caused significant conflict between defectors and critics of the Saudi-backed events.
McIlroy has emerged as a prominent, unofficial spokesperson for the PGA Tour, and Woods praised the Northern Irishman’s work during a “turbulent” 12 months.
“The past year since, if you go back to this week at Genesis last year to where it’s at now, we all have to say it’s been very turbulent,” said Woods.
“We never would have expected the game of golf to be in this situation, but it is, that’s the reality, and I was alluding to trying to create the best product.
“Obviously, they’re a competitive organization trying to create their best product they possibly can, and we’re trying to create the best product that we think the future of golf, how it should be played.
“It’s been an ebb and flow, it really has. And it’s been difficult, there’s no lie. You’ve seen our ambassador, Rory, go through it. It’s been tough on him, but he’s been exceptional.
“To be able to go through all that, I’ve been with him on all those conference calls and side meetings, and for him to go out there and play and win, it’s been incredible.”