TIGER WOODS was never one for fraternising with 'the enemy'. When it comes to Rory McIlroy, however, golf's greatest predator is happy to describe his hottest rival as a friend.
It's a measure of McIlroy's remarkable maturity and ability that Tiger (37) views the Ulsterman, just 23, as an equal, not someone who needs mentoring.
Woods famously became close with a couple of senior players during his early years on Tour, describing how Mark O'Meara and John Cook "really took me under their wing back in the day.
"They were like my big brothers at the time and they still are. I have a different type of relationship with Rory. I don't think it's quite at the same level as I was with Mark and Cookie."
Woods and McIlroy are relatively near neighbours in Jupiter, Florida, but even if he and Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh lived in the building at the peak of their rivalry, it'd be difficult to imagine Tiger inviting either for a friendly Sunday morning round at his local club, the Medalist.
Maybe Tiger's mellowed; although as well as being gifted, McIlroy is affable, quick-witted and universally popular on Tour. "Rory's a friend of mine," Woods went on. "He just happens to be the No 1 player in the world.
"He's moved down here and we've figured, 'let's get a game some time'. We were kind of hoping it wouldn't be last Sunday," added Tiger, seeded to meet McIlroy in the final of the Accenture Match Play before both were beaten in the first round.
"We played a quick 36, then he headed off to do what he needed to do and I went home and did some more training."
Back at PGA National for this week's Honda Classic, where Woods shot a sensational final-round 62 last year, but still lost by two to McIlroy, Tiger said his young rival simply "iced it" that Sunday and has been "doing a fantastic job" at the top of the world.
As for McIlroy's switch to Nike equipment, Tiger said: "I understand Rory is going through the process. We've talked about it a little bit. It is a process."
They are like-minded about long putters. "My position hasn't changed," says Woods. "I still think it should be swung, it shouldn't be anchored. The USGA and the R&A are the governing bodies of our rules and we'll see what happens."