Brand new friends help McIlroy and Tiger
RORY McILROY believes he's found a new best friend to help turn around his season, while Tiger Woods has given the elbow to a tendon injury which stymied him at last month's US Open.
The world's top two golfers were so upbeat as Open Championship week dawned on the breezy, sun-kissed links at Muirfield, hopes soared of a classic head-to-head battle for Major championship glory next Sunday.
Of the issues confronted by McIlroy this year, arguably the most disconcerting was his failure to find a driver he could hit with the same consistency, confidence and ferocity as that which helped propel him to win a second Major title last year and past Woods to No 1.
Yet McIlroy revealed a session with Nike following his recent missed cut at the Irish Open provided him with a crimson Covert he expects will restore the driver as the most potent weapon in his arsenal.
"I tried a few drivers with different settings and, as soon as I hit this one, I said, 'This is the one'. It feels great," he said.
After discovering a crack in the driver he'd used at Merion, McIlroy actually had a new one in his bag at the Irish Open but still complained of feeling 'lost' as he struggled to rediscover his 'A' game.
It wasn't until last Thursday week's session with Nike boffins that the jigsaw finally dropped into place.
Ironically, with Muirfield playing rock hard, fast and dangerous, McIlroy is likely to hit driver on very few holes. Yet this latest development augurs well for the second half of his season.
Having played just two tournament rounds in four weeks, McIlroy practised at Muirfield last Monday and Tuesday and added a competitive edge to yesterday's 18 holes by playing with just one ball. He went around in four-over 75 but with five shots dropped in a three-hole stretch, McIlroy expressed satisfaction with his overall effort.
Woods didn't use driver during nine holes played with Dustin Johnson and Aussie Jason Day. Instead, he got a feel for the pace of the turf and steered clear of the rough as he gave the left elbow he injured a gentle workout.
"It's fine. It feels good," Woods said on the eighth, where he hit a four-iron downwind 285 yards.
Following Friday's missed cut at the Scottish Open, Padraig Harrington played 14 holes at Muirfield on Saturday and two nines either side of lunch yesterday.
He arrived at exactly the same conclusion as McIlroy – that is to stay on the straight-and-narrow off the tee. "Every time you miss a fairway, you're in a world of trouble," said Harrington. "It's also important to putt well. This is a really difficult test but I've always enjoyed playing tough golf courses."
Woods was joined in practice today by his new flame Lindsay Vonn. Tiger Woods form has improved since the relationship became public but whether there is a link it's hard to say.