ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – On Tuesday Tiger Woods dismissed the idea that he and Rory McIlroy have become the game’s next great rivalry, pointing out that it takes years for that kind of legacy to unfold.
But if recent history is any indication, and despite McIlroy’s commanding lead in the World Golf Ranking, Woods enjoys an advantage over the Ulsterman in head-to-head meetings.
Woods outplayed McIlroy for the sixth time when the two have been paired together, signing for a 72 in blustery conditions at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship to McIlroy’s 75. Woods is now 6-2-1 in head-to-head pairings with the world No. 1.
That meant little to Woods following his windblown opening round of 2013 which featured 29 putts (including a three-putt at the last from 40 feet), 10 of 18 greens in regulation and just five of 14 fairways hit. Still, Woods sounded surprisingly upbeat when he came off the golf course on Thursday.
“I’m right there,” said Woods, who was tied for 42nd when he finished his round. “There’s not a lot of guys going low out there. It’s tough and these fairways are tiny to begin with but there are a lot of crosswinds.”
Woods began 2013 with a bogey four holes into his year at the 13th hole when he was forced to play a left-handed punch out shot after driving near a tree left of the fairway but finished his outward loop birdie-birdie and made the turn at 2 under.
The surreal moment of the day came a hole later, however, when he caught his drive heavy and didn’t make it to the fairway to start a bogey-bogey run.
“My game plan was to hit 3-iron or 5-wood on that hole and then I changed the game plan and wasn’t committed to the shot,” said Woods, who did not go to the practice tee after his round. “I didn’t want to hit it. I was really fighting over that tee shot and I should have just backed off and followed my game plan.”
Woods closed his round with scrambling pars at Nos. 6 and 7 and rolled in a 10 footer for birdie at the par-5 eighth hole before his miscue at the last.
He did seem pleased with his short game on Day 1, however, following an offseason during which he focused on shots from 100 yards and in. “I thought my short game was solid,” he said.