Rory McIlroy scored a huge public relations victory over Tiger Woods before a shot was struck in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral’s Blue Monster.
But the new world number one knows that while he makes Woods look like an 18-handicapper in the press room, he’s going to have to produce his best stuff on the course to hold off the 14-time major winner on one of his favourite courses.
Woods will be bidding for his 17th World Golf Championship title and his seventh win at Doral when he tees it up with Sergio Garcia and defending champion Nick Watney today.
And while the 14-time major winner warned McIlroy he “must continue to improve” to keep the chasing posse at bay, the Irish star appears to be taking his newfound status in his stride as he prepares to defend his No 1 ranking alongside Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the world No 2 and No 3.
“It doesn’t feel much different,” McIlroy said of his status as the game’s top-ranked player. “It was a great feeling on Sunday just to win the tournament and with a couple of guys making a charge, it was nice to play pretty solid coming down the stretch and get the job done.
“It’s been nice to get away from golf a little bit and reflect and sort of let it sink in. But I’m looking forward to getting back at it this week, and excited to be back at Doral, one of my favourite stops of the year.”
McIlroy’s Tuesday press conference was a big hit with the US media, in stark contrast to Woods’ media scrum following yesterday’s practice round.
The 36-year old American spoke about his newfound confidence, especially in the wind and his belief that he is “absolutely” on track for next month’s Masters.
When asked what advice he’d give McIlroy, the former number one had littleto impart, other than to warn the youngster not to get too complacent.
Woods said: “He’s got to continue to get better, because everyone else is. Everyone else is out here working hard to become a better golfer, and more consistent player.
“And he didn’t get here by not practicing. So he’s got to continue to do what he’s doing and I’m sure he’s done a lot of different things.
“He’s working on his game. He’s working on his fitness, and all that has compiled a pretty good record.”
Woods was impressed by the way that McIlroy played the last five holes at the Honda Classic with the title and the world No 1 ranking on the line.
“He has fantastic talent,” Woods said. “He made a few makes but he recovered every time. And you’re not going to play perfectly all the time. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s fine. He recovered and if you look at it, he missed on the correct side each time.”
McIlroy finished a career best of 10th at Doral last year but Graeme McDowell believes his stablemate is a far more mature player this season.
“I didn’t see him much at the end of last year but I felt something tangible after he won at Lake Malaren,” McDowell said. “It felt like the tunnel vision really got turned on for him and I don’t know whether that’s Caroline [Wozniacki] influencing him regarding her work ethic but he is now a very hard worker. The way he won on Sunday was very un-Rory like. He didn’t decimate the golf course with length and ball striking.
“He actually chipped and putted his way to victory, which is not what we expect from him but it proves how much his game has matured.”
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