Tiger duel a Major dream for McIlroy
Published 04/02/2016 | 02:30
In the short term, Rory McIlroy fully expects to win his third Dubai tournament in a row this week. But in the long term this self-confessed "huge Tiger Woods geek" still dreams of slugging it out with his hero on one of the biggest stages in the game.
Having won the DP World Tour Championship at the nearby Jumeirah Resort three months ago, the Ulsterman can complete a unique treble if he successfully defends his Omega Desert Classic at the Emirates Club.
With only one other member of the world's top 10 in attendance - Sweden's Henrik Stenson - it would take a brave person to bet against him, especially considering his third place in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.
"Yeah, if I was leaving here on Sunday night and hadn't won, I would be disappointed," he said.
The Irishman will also feel short-changed if he was not granted one of his childhood fantasies - a major showdown with golf's greatest.
McIlroy and Woods have been in contention together in final rounds before, most famously at the 2012 Honda Classic when McIlroy withstood a Woods charge to win and so claim the world No 1 spot.
Woods, though, had already won 13 of his 14 Majors when McIlroy signed up to become a professional in 2007.
There was the 2012 US PGA Championship at Kiawah island when Woods shared the halfway lead, but McIlroy effortlessly strode out to win by eight shots on that occasion and Woods laboured home in a tie for 11th. It was hardly the head-to-head that young boy in Holywood envisaged.
"I would still love to have a crack at Tiger down the stretch in a Major," McIlroy said. "I would love that, just once. I feel like competition brings the best out of me.
"I know Phil [Mickelson] has said that, maybe if he hadn't gone up against Tiger in his prime, he would have won more Majors. But he also always said that Tiger brought out the best in him.
"At this point it's just up to him to get healthy and get his game back, and for me to hopefully keep playing the way I'm playing. Maybe one day.
"I'd love to see him, as a golf fan myself, just have one more go at it."
And then there is the friendship he has formed with Woods.
Originally, their relationship was terse when McIlroy bounced on to the scene and Woods was suspicious. But now, as neighbours in South Florida, they are clearly close.
"Tiger gives off this persona of being quite intimidating, but he can't go anywhere. It would be tough to live that life, so I can see why he is so guarded," McIlroy said.
"Once you gain his trust, he's great. He's great fun both on and off the course. I only live 15 minutes away from him and we play some casual rounds together. He's just a normal guy. He's now with his kids trying to be the best father he can be and putting all his effort into that.
"I respect him for it and that's why I hope one day he can come back and have another go at trying to win Majors and give every golf fan what they want to see."
Meanwhile, Craig Watson, who beat future Masters champion Trevor Immelman to win the 1997 Amateur Championship, has succeeded Nigel Edwards as the Walker Cup captain.
The next match takes place in Los Angeles in September 2017. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Dubai Desert Classic, Live, Sky Sports 4, 4.0am/11.30am