ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Welcome to everyone else’s world, Tiger.
This is the world of Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood and any number of players who have had to sit in news conferences and face questions about someone other than themselves.
Woods got a taste of what it’s like to be badgered about another player when he sat down with the media here in Abu Dhabi on the eve of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. He had to talk about new Nike stablemate Rory McIlroy.
Of the 20 questions Woods received from the world’s media, 15 were about McIlroy.
Fast-forward 90 minutes to McIlroy’s news conference and the World No. 1 wasn’t asked too many questions about Tiger. Only six of Rory’s 32 questions concerned Woods.
How the tables have turned.
It’s not that long ago that McIlroy was sneaking under the ropes in Dubai to get a close-up look at the player he’s idolized since boyhood. After missing the cut in the 2006 Dubai Desert Classic as an amateur, McIlroy borrowed a camera from a photographer so he could walk with Woods’ group.
They were miles apart in terms of ability. Not even the best clairvoyant could have predicted McIlroy’s rise to the top of the world order. Not even McIlroy.
“In September 2007, when I turned pro at The Belfry, I wouldn’t have thought that I would be sitting here as a two-time major champion, No. 1 in the world and doing everything I’ve done in the game already,” McIlroy said. “It’s been quite a lot faster than I thought it was going to happen.”
Woods knows what it’s like to be thrust into the spotlight. He knows what it’s like to switch equipment manufacturers. Woods also changed gear a few years into his pro career.
“He’s had a tremendous year,” Woods said about McIlroy’s 2012 campaign. “He won a major championship, on top of that came into our Nike family. So it’s been a big switch for him.
“I believe he’s just moved down to West Palm Beach as well. (McIlroy has purchased a house in south Florida.) So a lot of things are certainly changing in his life. I’ve kind of been there and understand it.”
The difference Woods’ feels is that he changed clubs in a more measured way than McIlroy. “I certainly changed equipment over the years, but I’ve done it gradually,” Woods said. “I’ve never made a big wholesale change over the course of my career. I’ve gradually implemented certain pieces of the 14 clubs.”
McIlroy, on the other hand, has gone for broke. Already he sounds like the perfect Nike pitchman, talking up the fact he feels the Nike ball feels more stable in the wind, that he gets 2 or 3 more mph ball speed with his driver and irons.
What he wasn’t sure of was whether or not there was a clause in his Nike contract that precluded him from wearing red on Sundays, Woods’ trademark color for final rounds. One prominent Nike player who does not wish to be named has hinted that he is not allowed to wear red on Sundays so as not to tread on Woods’ territory.
Given the amount of time Woods devoted to talking about McIlroy, it might soon be the former World No. 1 who has to bow to Rory’s wishes on Sunday dress and not the other way around.
To be fair to Woods, he answered every question about McIlroy patiently. But for how long? It didn’t take long for Els to get exasperated with Tiger questions. And don’t even go there with Singh. Their rivalry (enmity) went so deep that seasoned reporters didn’t dare ask the Fijian questions about Woods.
How long until Tiger cracks, and balks at any query about his young, Northern Irish stablemate?
For now, everything is harmony and light. Woods and McIlroy are here in Abu Dhabi going head-to-head over the first two rounds along with Martin Kaymer. Three World No. 1s together. Two Nike swooshes and a TaylorMade one.
In fact, given the obsession with Woods and McIlroy, it’s surprising they weren’t just paired together and everyone else was forgotten.
At least McIlroy managed to add a little perspective to the proceedings.
“Golf isn’t about Tiger and I,” McIlroy said. “There are a lot of great players out there that deserve to be shown a little bit of respect and deserve to be under the spotlight, too.”
It just doesn’t seem that way here in the desert. Just ask Tiger Woods.