Rory McIlroy has warned that a rejuvenated Tiger Woods could have 10 years left as he attempts to overtake Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.
Woods, 43, secured win number 15 at last month’s Masters in Augusta after a gap of 11 years following four bouts of back surgery.
Asked if he could now catch and overhaul Nicklaus, McIlroy told www.pgatour.com: “I would certainly think so. It rejuvenates, it re-energises that narrative. That’s still another four...
“I guess the thing is as well, a lot of people were comparing it to Jack in ‘86 - everyone knew that was going to be Jack’s last major championship.
“Tiger could be competitive at Augusta for the next 10 years if his body holds up.”
That may be the big question for a player who McIlroy firmly believes had started to fear that his career was over when they had lunch around two years ago.
McIlroy said: “It was March 2017, just coming off the back of another surgery or whatever, and all he was thinking about was quality of life, watching his kids grow up, being able to play soccer in the back yard...
“His mind wasn’t even on golf, which sort of told me, ‘He’s thinking this could be it’, and from stories that I’ve heard, at the champions dinner at Augusta that year, he was saying the same things, maybe not playing competitive golf again.
“To think in two years what’s happened, it’s incredible. It’s a big deal to come back from what he has and I don’t think people quite appreciate what has gone into it.
“But it just shows he’s gritty, he’s determined - it’s always been one of his best qualities and it [Augusta] was awesome to see for everyone in golf, whether you’re a player, whether you’re in the media, it’s just great for our game in general.
“It was a great day.”
McIlroy’s comments came ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in North Carolina which started on Thursday, a title he has won twice.
He will use the tournament as part of his preparation for the US Open at Pebble Beach in June, where he is determined to improve upon a “pathetic” record.
He told reporters: “I’ve been pathetic at the US Open, so I’ve changed that up, I’m going to make that my third week in a row. Three missed cuts in a row, it is pathetic. You could do that.
“I don’t view it as just ‘This big week’ or ‘This big week’, it’s a stretch of gold coming up and I’m excited about that.”