McIlroy explained on a podcast with No Laying Up that he woke up in the middle of the night last week in Dubai to watch part of Woods' first official PGA Tour start since 2015, where he missed the cuts after rounds of 76-72. It wasn't an ideal start for Woods, but it was just the first in a stretch of four events in five weeks.
McIlroy liked what he saw from Woods' swing, and he believes that this week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic will be a "much better gauge" of where his game truly stands.
"If you look at his backswing, where he's taking the club away, where he's putting the club at the top of the swing, it's really good. It's so on plane," McIlroy said. "He's close. He's closer than people think, I can assure you that."
McIlroy said that he would love for Woods to "just give it one last run" in the majors, both from a fan enjoyment perspective and because he would still like to go toe-to-toe with Woods when the stakes are at their highest. But he added that even if Woods' major total never approaches Jack Nicklaus' coveted record of 18 titles, it's unfair to look at Woods' career as anything short of extraordinary.
"He's won 14 majors, he's won (79) times on the PGA Tour, he's won over 100 times worldwide. That is not a failure," McIlroy said. "Unfortunately, people are going to see his career as a failure because he didn't achieve what he set out to achieve, and that's ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous.
"He played the best golf of anyone in the world, ever, for like a 10-year stretch. It was golf that no one had seen before. It brought so many people to the sport, and it ignited a generation of golfers that you see now coming through," McIlroy said. "He transcended the game of golf, and he is nothing but a success and a credit to the game of golf."