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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Rory McIlroy says Tiger Woods can walk away from golf with head held high

Northern Irishman pays tribute to fellow golfer after American expresses doubts about his future as professional

Tiger Woods is unsure about his future as a professional golfer. Alex Brandon / AP Photo
Tiger Woods is unsure about his future as a professional golfer. Alex Brandon / AP Photo

Rory McIlroy says Tiger Woods can walk away from golf with his head held “extremely high” should injury call time on his career.

Woods, considered by many as the greatest golfer in history, has been out of the game since February, when he withdrew from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic citing back pain. The American had managed only one competitive round at Emirates Golf Club.

Initially, the problem was expected to keep Woods out for only a brief period, but he later had yet more back surgery - the fourth time in the past three years.

Woods has since begun swinging a club again, but has been limited to hitting nothing more than 60-yard chip shots. On Wednesday, he faced the media at the Presidents Cup in New Jersey, where he is member of the Unites States team in his role as a non-playing assistant captain. There, the 14-time major champion conceded that retirement is a possibility, saying "I don't know what the future holds for me".

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Four-time major winner McIlroy was asked at the British Masters on Thursday about those quotes. The Northern Irishman knows Woods well, with the two becoming close particularly once McIlroy joined the Nike stable in 2014. Woods has been with the American manufacturer for more than 20 years.

Speaking to Sky Sports following his first round at Close House Golf Club in Newcastle, England, McIlroy said of Woods: “Only he knows whether he can do it and he's taking it very slowly. I spent a bit of time with him over the past few months and he's waiting on his doctors to tell him when he can do things again. He's going to take their advice and not be maybe quite as stubborn as he was maybe back in the day.

Rory McIlroy, left, and Tiger Woods have spent time together on and off the course. Darron Cummings / AP Photo
Rory McIlroy, left, and Tiger Woods have spent time together on and off the course. Darron Cummings / AP Photo

“But look, if he doesn't play again, he's been the greatest player that I've ever seen. He probably played the greatest golf that anyone in my lifetime has seen. I didn't really see Jack [Nicklaus] play. Jack has a better record, but I don't know if he played better golf.

“If this is it, he doesn't have anything to prove to anyone. He can walk away from this game with his head held extremely high and he's done wonders for this game.

“I don't think there's a single figure in golf who did more for the game in terms of bringing different groups of people into the game, different ethnicities, different age groups, made golf cool in the '90s, when it really needed an injection of something.

“So he's a legend of the game and if this is it, then everyone should just applaud what a great career he's had.”