Tiger Woods heaped praise Rory McIlroy, but on the eve of his own final event of the season he also said: “I still feel I have some of my best golf to play”. Woods is the defending champion in the 18-man World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in California, with Ian Poulter and 2010 winner Graeme McDowell the two Europeans taking part.
The course was the scene of Woods’ first victory for over two years last December and three more PGA Tour wins this year have given him cause for optimism as he approaches his 37th birthday.
“There were quite a few people out there that said I would never win again,” he said. “Well starting at this event, I won four times so that’s not too bad, but I still feel I have some of my best golf to play.
“In order to do that I had to be healthy and this year is heading in the right direction. I’m very excited about next year.” As for 23-year-old McIlroy, whose five victories in 2012 included his second major by a runaway eight-shot margin, Woods stated: “Rory is ranked number one – he deserves it.
“He’s won tournaments all around the world. He’s had high finishes on top of that and that’s how you do it. “He’s won a major championship, won a couple of (FedEx Cup) play-off events and won the Race to Dubai event, so those are four big events with great fields.
“He should be very proud of the season he’s had and I’m sure he’s excited about what next year holds for him as well.” On McIlroy’s coming switch of clubs Woods added: “I think that any time you make a change in equipment it’s certainly a big deal. “I think it’s about how you go at it. Going through the testing process, trying to get the right shaft and the clubhead, plus ball, is a challenge. “There’s a lot of hitting of golf balls or a lot of testing, a lot of days out there spending by yourself testing. But when you get it right it’s pretty good.
“Over the course of my career I haven’t put anything in my bag unless I knew it was already better, but that’s just because of all the testing I’ve done prior to that. “It’s important what it does on the range, but what is it going to do on the back nine on Sunday?
“Is this equipment in general, is this going to help me win golf tournaments? If the answer is yes, then it’s in the bag. If the answer is no, then it’s not.” Poulter, the man the Americans wanted to keep quiet at the Ryder Cup and failed miserably, is back playing in the States this week for the first time since Europe’s famous victory. “I was a marked man at the Ryder Cup. They wanted to shut me up – that was plain and simple,” Poulter said last week in Dubai.
“Everybody knew that and they couldn’t do it.” The 36-year-old won all his four games at Medinah, including a match-winning fourball with McIlroy in which he birdied the final five holes.
McDowell, who became engaged last week, is back at the tournament where he beat Woods in a play-off two years ago just two months after his match-winning role at the Ryder Cup in Wales.
Player, Harrington welcome rule change
Multiple major winners Gary Player and Padraig Harrington have backed Wednesday’s proposed rule change to ban anchored putters from 2016. Golf’s ruling bodies, the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Club, will make a final decision in spring next year on a new Rule 14-1b, which “would prohibit strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against the player’s body, or with a forearm held against the body”. Harrington, who won the Open in 2007 and 2008 as well as the 2008 US PGA Championship, told Sky Sports News: “If belly putters were invented today , they’d definitely be banned, I think everyone agrees on that. “The question is should they be banned now after 15, 20 years of people using them? “Twenty years ago you’d hear people like Tom Watson saying ‘no, it shouldn’t be used’, but the biggest issue was whether a guy was going to use it to measure two club lengths out of a water hazard, take a free drop using it. Nowadays, it’s become a lot more commonplace and you don’t hear that issue whatsoever. “But the rules of golf have always been that you can’t anchor a club to your body, and clearly this is anchoring. There are less variables so it certainly seems to help guys under pressure and it goes against what is seen to be the normal way of playing golf.” “The R&A and USGA have come to the conclusion that if they don’t move now, it’s becoming so commonplace in the junior game that people are going to think it’s normal.” Player, who won all four majors including the Masters and the Open three times apiece, said: “I think the USGA and R&A have been brilliant and I congratulate them.