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Why Rory McIlroy needs Tiger Woods at the US Masters

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If Tiger Woods recovers from injury, he will next face off with Rory McIlroy at the US Masters

If Tiger Woods recovers from injury, he will next face off with Rory McIlroy at the US Masters

If Tiger Woods recovers from injury, he will next face off with Rory McIlroy at the US Masters

RORY McILROY was first to send Tiger Woods his best wishes for a speedy recovery and there's no doubting the 22-year-old's genuine concern for his boyhood idol.

McIlroy plainly is relishing the prospect of pitting himself against a resurgent Tiger at the US Masters in three weeks' time.

Woods is the undisputed Master of Augusta National -- remarkably, Tiger has not finished outside the top six in six visits to Augusta since the most recent of his four victories there in 2005.

The excitement stirred by Tiger's career-best final-round 62 at the Honda Classic last Sunday week and the gravitas it lent to McIlroy's victory heavily underscores the importance of having Woods fit and fired up for golf's main events. Yet there is another pressing reason for golf enthusiasts on this island to hope that Tiger's decision to withdraw after completing just 11 holes of Sunday's final round of the Cadillac Championship was purely precautionary and that he'll play the Masters.

McIlroy, Irish golf's first world No 1, needs him there.

Woods left the golf course on Sunday complaining of "tightness" in his left Achilles tendon immediately after hitting a 321-yard drive into the heart of the 12th fairway.

He had been in pain since the fourth; changed golf shoes at the turn and plainly was in distress after hitting his second shot out of the rough and into the lake at 10.

Such is the nature of social media that within minutes of the 'live' broadcast of Tiger's getaway from Doral behind the wheel of his black Mercedes, Twitter was alive with speculation about his condition.

Some tweets cynically suggested Woods quit because, at three-over for his round, he was "closer to the parking lot than the lead". Another offered that his ego, not his Achilles tendon, had been bruised.

Nonsense! Tiger's playing companion on Sunday, Webb Simpson, and both caddies in their group, were aware of his difficulties. Tour veteran Paul Tesori, who caddies for Simpson, said he noticed Woods limping as early as the fourth hole.

IMPRESSIVE

Despite the impressive line and length of Tiger's tee shot on 12, Tesori explained: "He kind of gimped it through the ball. He probably made a good call to cut loose (withdraw)."

Remember, Woods missed last year's US and British Opens when he returned at Sawgrass too soon after straining his Achilles tendon and spraining left knee ligaments at the Masters.

Given that experience and the impact Tiger's increasingly parlous physical state has had on his lifelong pursuit of the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus, he would have been bonkers to push any further through the pain barrier in pursuit of a lost cause last Sunday.

The extent of the injury should be known within 24 hours and, one assumes, Woods' place on the Albany Golf Club team at the annual Tavistock Cup match at Lake Nona next Monday and Tuesday is in doubt.

His plan to tee it up in Arnie Palmer's Invitational at Bay Hill on Thursday week also may be sacrificed if Tiger is to play next month at Augusta, where he will have his best chance by far of winning a Major this season.

Having Woods in the field at the Masters will be of immense significance to McIlroy as he tries to erase last April's final-day meltdown and fulfil his own destiny at Augusta.

Sunday's third place at Doral, two behind English winner Justin Rose, strengthened the Ulsterman's position at the top of the world, while he leads both the FedEx Cup points tally in America and Europe's Race to Dubai.

Though McIlroy will spend the next 21 days preparing in private for the Masters, including a visit from coach Michael Bannon to West Palm Beach this week, the only threat to his status as world No 1 comes from Luke Donald.

The Englishman must win the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook, his last outing before the Masters, to return to the summit -- so the Holywood hero is likely to go to Augusta with that bullseye on his back.

No one better equipped than McIlroy to deal with the attention stirred by his new status in golf. He was born to perform, admitting at Doral: "I feel like I do thrive in the spotlight."

Though he won't arrive 'in town' until Tuesday night or Wednesday morning of Masters week, it would be asking a lot even of McIlroy alone to absorb the full, blinding force of the media glare at Augusta National, as he undoubtedly would in Tiger's absence.

No question, Woods savaged an entire generation at the Majors. Yet he also made life easier for his 'rivals' by taking the role of favourite in every one he played and that's why McIlroy needs him to play the Masters.

Irish Independent