RORY McILROY believes he tried to be too much like Tiger at last year's Masters, leading to his shocking final round meltdown at Augusta.
McIlroy has looked up to Tiger since first seeing him on TV at age six and watching the former World No 1 win his 14 Majors prompted him to take the wrong approach that ill-fated Sunday.
"My whole attitude changed completely on Sunday at the Masters," the Holywood hero revealed yesterday at PGA National in Palm Beach, where he tees it up today at the Honda Classic.
"I tried to be a person I'm not," McIlroy went on. "Down the years watching Tiger winning those Majors, he gave out such an aura on the first tee, he was so focused, so intense, it was like 'I'm going to rip your head off.
"So I thought I had to have the same focus. I had this tunnel vision," he added. "But that's not me.
"Normally I'm pretty chatty outgoing and that's the person who played on the first three days at Augusta, the person that got me into that position in the first place. So I learned that Sunday I always must try to be myself."
Of course, McIlroy bounced back 70 days later to register a record-breaking US Open victory at Congressional, and this week in Florida, he resumes his bid to become the first Irish golfer to get to world No 1.
Aussie golf legend Greg Norman believes the Holywood hero can rely on girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki to drive him to the top of the world.
The Danish tennis star "is probably the best partner Rory can have because she is physically strong, she has to be that way for her sport," said Norman.
During his prime, Norman was widely regarded as poster boy for physical fitness in golf and even at age 57, he still does two hours in the gym up to five days each week and he believes: "Looking after your body is as important as looking after your golf swing."
Like Tiger, and the vast majority of today's top young players, McIlroy has caught the weight-lifting and PT bug, yet Norman believes the Ulsterman and former women's world No 1 Wozniacki can benefit from their current relationship in many other ways.
"For the two of them to be respectively going through their careers at this young age is ideal," he enthused.
"There's no better partner to have sitting beside you than someone who understands what it takes to do what you do," he added. "I think the great counterbalance for Rory right now is Caroline Wozniacki. I don't know how close they are. I don't go on Twitter. But it just seems like they are on the same path privately and professionally." Sadly, his own marriage to former tennis superstar Chris Evert ended in 2010 after just 15 months.
Woods, meanwhile, is hoping that lengthy putting sessions on the practice greens at his nearby $54m mansion or Jupiter Island will stand to him today when he tees it up with Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter on his first appearance as a pro at PGA National. Padraig Harrington won the 2005 Honda Classic at nearby Mirasol but the Champion Course at PGA National offers US golf's sternest challenge outside of the Majors.
Not too long ago, he'd have been fancied to grind his way into contention on such a difficult track but, like Tiger, Harrington's efforts have been undermined by a worrying loss of form with the putter, once the bedrock of his game.
One Major Champion whose morale appears to have hit rock bottom is Harrington's playing companion today, Darren Clarke. Dr Bob Rotella, the guru who got the Ulsterman to stop self-flagellating long enough at Sandwich to win The Open, had a lengthy session with him last week in Tucson, where Clarke ran into an American "buzz saw" Nick Watney in the first round.
"When Darren gets it (his head) in the right place, he is so simple to work with, it's ridiculous," said Dr Bob. "But when he gets lost, he gets complicated."
While McIlroy's in scintillating form, one wonders how he'll cope if the wind, for which Palm Beach is notorious, rises above the forecast 15 mph.
McIlroy's form at PGA National, where he finished tied 70th in howling gales last year, suggests his best chance of replacing Luke Donald at the top of the world may be at Doral on next week.
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