Tiger has done wonders for game - McIlroy
If Tiger Woods could be perceived as preparing the grounds for his retirement with his startling comments this week, then Rory McIlroy is already leading the appreciation of his friend's stunning career.
After recording a satisfactory 67 in the first round of the British Masters at Close House, McIlroy was asked about Woods' revelation on Wednesday that he might not play professionally again.
As a self-confessed "Tiger geek" who had the American's picture on his bedroom wall and every one of his stats imprinted on his young mind, it was not surprising to hear the reaction.
"I've spent a bit of time with him over the past few months and he's waiting on doctors to tell him what he can and can't do," McIlroy said. "But look, if he doesn't play again, he's been the greatest player I've ever seen.
"Jack[Nicklaus] has a better record but I don't know if he played better golf. If this is it, Tiger doesn't have anything to prove to anyone; not to me, not to you, not to himself. He can walk away with his head held extremely high. He's done wonders for this game.
"I don't think there's a single figure who ever did more in terms of bringing different groups of people into the game, different ethnicities, different age groups...
"Tiger made golf cool in the Nineties when it really needed an injection of something. He's a legend and, if this is it, then everyone should just applaud him."
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McIlroy was happy to have such a large crowd watching him yesterday - particularly on the 17th (his eighth), where his wild drive was found by a spectator just inside the five-minute rule. He managed to escape with a par and three birdies on his back nine helped him to finish with a three-under-par 67 - four off the pace set by Tyrrell Hatton and the South African George Coetzee.
After reaching 14th in the world in March, Hatton endured a brutal summer, missing five cuts in a row, including the US Open and Open and then chucked in another at the US PGA. Something had to give and, as it so often is when a pro goes on a stinker, that something was the caddie.
Hatton summoned his friend Jonathan Bell on to the bag for the European Masters in Switzerland and, wouldn't you know it, he finished third. He continued that upturn here, coming back in 30, despite bogeying the 11th.
The six birdies assisted greatly in this regard, including the 15-footer on the par-three 18th.
There are some notable names on four-under, including host Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Matt Fitzpatrick and Graeme McDowell. But Masters champion Sergio Garcia shot a level-par 70. Paul Dunne is also on four-under with Shane Lowry next best of the Irish on two-under, a double-bogey on the fourth proving costly for the Offaly man.
At the final leg of the Web.com Tour Championship in Florida, Seamus Power birdie the last to finish with a first round of four under par 67, giving the Waterford man a solid foundation to secure his PGA Tour card for 2018. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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