AUGUSTA, Ga. — The professional golf community would like us to think that there’s a fierce rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. But nothing could be further from the truth — in McIroy’s mind anyway.
“No, not at all,” said McIlroy, who is ranked No. 2 in the world heading into this weekend’s Masters. “I don’t see myself as a rival to Tiger or anyone for that fact. Tiger’s obviously been on tour 12 more years than me or something like that. When you speak of rivals, you tend to think rivals have had similar success. He’s got 77 PGA tour wins; I’ve got six. He’s won 14 majors; I’ve won two. If I saw myself as I rival to Tiger, I really wouldn’t be doing him much justice.”
Perhaps, but McIlroy and Woods are on similar career paths. Just 24 years old, McIlroy is already playing in his fifth Masters tournament. He won four PGA Tour events last season, including the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, to claim player of the year honors. McIlroy spent 32 weeks as the world’s No. 1 ranked player until Woods overtook him with his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.
Meanwhile, McIlroy has been adjusting to his equipment from Taylor Made to Nike. That process, McIlroy said Tuesday, is about complete. He shot 66 in the final round last week to finish second to Martin Laird in the Valero Texas Open.
“It’s definitely not the clubs,” McIlroy said during an interview Tuesday at Augusta National. “That’s what I’ve found out the last few weeks. It’s me. I feel like the clubs are a part of me now and that’s the way it ought to be.”
McIlroy, who’s best Masters finish was 15th in 2011, tied Woods for 40th last year. So he’s trying a different strategy this year.
“I’m going to try to hit the fat parts of the fairway because I’m hitting my irons so well,” he said. “At the end of the day, what’s the difference in hitting approach with an 8-iron or a 6-iron. Hopefully I’ll make less mistakes.”
One reporter asked if McIlroy’s recent resurgence may be because of Woods’ improved performance.
“No, doesn’t make a difference at all,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what anybody else does.”
Woods will play the first two rounds of the Masters with Luke Donald and Scott Piercy.
Woods has played with Donald before in majors, though never in the opening rounds at Augusta National. Piercy is making his Masters debut. They are in the morning wave Thursday, teeing off at 10:45 a.m.
Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson are at the back end of the draw for the opening round.
Mickelson, going after a fourth green jacket, tees off at 1:30 p.m. with Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer. McIlroy is in the group right behind him with Keegan Bradley and Freddie Jacobson of Sweden.
Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old from China, plays with Matteo Manassero and 61-year-old Ben Crenshaw.