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McIlroy discovers that just like the character in the kids' book, Woods is back to devour all in his path

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READY FOR THE ROAR: Team USA’s Tiger Woods during practice ahead of this weekend’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris. Pic: Reuters

READY FOR THE ROAR: Team USA’s Tiger Woods during practice ahead of this weekend’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris. Pic: Reuters

READY FOR THE ROAR: Team USA’s Tiger Woods during practice ahead of this weekend’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris. Pic: Reuters

Be careful watch you wish for, as the old saying goes. On Sunday, as he tagged along with his childhood hero, Tiger Woods, the Northern Ireland golfer looked a disconsolate figure.

Big-hearted Rory had worn his admiration and affection for Woods on his sleeve since long before 2009 when Tiger crashed his Cadillac into a fire hydrant near his Florida mansion and his wife Elin Nordegren added to the damage with a golf club.

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HUNGRY FOR MORE: Tiger Woods’ huge appetite on the tee box echoes that of the main character in the children’s book ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’.

HUNGRY FOR MORE: Tiger Woods’ huge appetite on the tee box echoes that of the main character in the children’s book ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’.

HUNGRY FOR MORE: Tiger Woods’ huge appetite on the tee box echoes that of the main character in the children’s book ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’.

In the weeks that followed, lurid stories of Woods having unprotected sex with a series of porn stars, nightclub hostesses and casual pick-ups took the sheen off the American hero and forced him to announce "an indefinite break from professional golf".

It was an ignominious fall from grace for such a popular and famous figure.

That year, McIlroy officially joined golf's elite when he achieved a ranking of 9th in the world.

Despite the difficulties affecting his brand and his private life, Woods didn't go away.

In March 2013, he toppled Rory from the No 1 spot, a ranking McIlroy had held for sixteen months.

Last hurrah

Although he had five wins on the PGA Tour that year, the last being the Bridgestone Invitational in August, this flourish was seen by many doubters as a last hurrah by Woods, who hadn't won a major since 2008.

Veteran Woods watchers noticed inconsistencies creeping into his game.

Early in 2014, when he finished 25th in a tournament, it was obvious there was something seriously wrong with his fitness.

Woods' had cruciate ligament and cartilage damage addressed years earlier. This was different.

When Woods announced that he'd miss the Masters, and turn down an opportunity to add to his 14 majors, it was obvious that, after years of punishing stress, his athletic body was betraying the strain.

He had surgery on his back but it wasn't entirely successful.

Further operations followed. A disc fragment was removed from his spine. But he continued to experience back pain.

"Even lying down hurt," said Tiger. "I had nerve pain with anything I did and was at the end of my rope."

Tiger's decline coincided with the rise of McIlroy.

The chubby-cheeked Co Down golfer became the new darling of the golfing fraternity.

Given Woods' scandal, headlines that proclaimed his heir apparent, McIlroy, "King of the Swingers" seemed in dubious taste.

But beaming McIlroy was seen as the mirror opposite of Tiger's tarnished image.

In 2012, after he'd won the FedEx Cup, Rory appeared in ebullient form on NBC's Late Night as host Jimmy Fallon declared: "Rory, you're the greatest golfer right now in the world, I would say."

Neither shy nor overawed, McIlroy cheekily replied: "So would I."

At the time, Nick Faldo was just one observer who warned that Woods would strive to reassert himself on the game.

Describing Tiger as having been "paranormal", Faldo insisted: "Tiger's competitive. I'm sure he doesn't want anyone having his spotlight. He wants to beat this kid now. He's still competitive. He still believes and he wants to show them he is still the master."

There's a popular children's classic, 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea', written by Judith Kerr, that tells of how a little girl Sophie was having tea with her mother when there was a ring at the door. "I wonder who that could be?" Sophie thought.

It was a tiger who came in, made himself at home and ate and drank everything in the house.

Written a few years before Tiger Woods was born, the story has long fascinated children. Rory McIlroy might even have read it.

If he did, he might have had an inkling of what was coming.

Despite his years in the golfing wilderness, Woods' appetite for the game wasn't diminished.

He'd have watched Rory buckle under the pressure of attempting to achieve a Grand Slam.

He'd have welcomed him to the Nike family and then watch him struggle to cope with a new set of clubs.

Fight

No doubt he smiled when in a Nike promo film Rory told us: "As a kid, I looked up to Tiger. When I first saw him on TV, I remember being completely enamoured by the energy he brought to the sport. His will to win. His determination. His fight."

He'd have watched Rory struggle with injury and periods of self-doubt.

He'd have noted the parade of talented young golfers who jostled to replace himself and McIlroy: Jordan Spieth; Jason Day; Dustin Johnson; Justin Rose.

And, like the Tiger Who Came to Tea, his appetite couldn't be satisfied.

Last year, Woods had a fourth surgery on his back and underwent an anterior lumbar interbody fusion.

The next hurdle he had to overcome was withdrawal from the painkillers he'd found difficult to manage.

Woods admitted he'd received plenty of support from golfers on the circuit, McIlroy among them. "They're all texting me, 'Come on, let's go out and play. Let's go play for some dollars and have a good time'," he revealed. "They really want to help me and come back and play,"

Late last year, Tiger played with McIlroy in Florida and Rory spotted something different. He saw a rejuvenated Tiger, and sensed his great appetite.

"This is a different Tiger," he warned. "He could stun the world again. He could be the story of the year. I hope he isn't. I hope I am."

On Sunday, like the little girl in the story who opened the door to the tiger, Rory had his answer.

Tiger Woods was chewing all before him.

Rory, who'd been in with a shout in Atlanta but watched his chances slip away yet again, was gracious in defeat, embracing the victorious Tiger on the 18th green.

McIlroy's emotions must surely have been scrambled as he watched Woods tap into what seems to be a bottomless reservoir of resolve, determination and courage while staging such a miraculous comeback at the highest level after years of physical and mental pressure.

With the taste of victory, after such a long and arduous hiatus, fresh in his system, Woods can be expected to press on from here.

Turning 43 in December, he'll be playing to add more tournament wins to his CV next year.

While McIlroy will be hoping for a fifth major win in 2019, Woods, with his insatiable appetite, could well step up and build on his total of 14.

This weekend Tiger will be on the prowl on the outskirts of Paris. A remarkable story continues.


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