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Woods talks McIlroy and more McIlroy in Abu Dhabi

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It was a sign of the times that Tiger Woods, normally the center of attention wherever he goes, opened his news conference on Tuesday with a question about Rory McIlroy.

In fact, Woods spent nearly half of his 25-minute news conference addressing McIlroy’s switch to Nike Golf – which was officially announced on Monday night – the duo’s budding relationship and what influence, if any, he had in the world No. 1’s decision to jump to the Swoosh.

“That was his decision; he’s a big boy and can figure it out on his own,” Woods smiled when asked if he had any impact in McIlroy’s move to Nike.

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McIlroy had a similar take when asked the same question on Monday at the Nike announcement and Cindy Davis, Nike Golf president, echoed those sentiments on Tuesday.

“It was entirely (McIlroy’s decision),” she told GTC. “That young man is very impressive. He went through the entire process and made the decision himself.”

Woods also dismissed the notion that he and McIlroy have embarked on the game’s next big rivalry, pointing out he’d been paired with numerous “rivals” throughout his Hall of Fame career and that the two had not yet gone head-to-head (at least in the same pairing) on a Sunday with a title on the line.

“It would be very similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil (Mickelson) two years into my career. That wasn’t the case. It takes time,” Woods said. “We haven’t really had the amount of matches that are head-to-head duels that I’ve had with Phil and Vijay (Singh) and Ernie (Els). It’s only been a few years, so let’s give it time and see how it pans out.”

The friendship between the two, however, has evolved since the duo played a nine-hole practice round together last year at Abu Dhabi. All total they were paired together eight times in 2012 (three times in Abu Dhabi and five times in the FedEx Cup playoffs) and the closest they came to a head-to-head showdown was in March at The Honda Classic when Woods closed with a 62 but finished two strokes behind McIlroy.

Although the relationship has lacked clarity, there is a genuine affinity between the game’s top two players, and that was long before they shot a Nike Golf commercial late last season that began airing this week.

“Our friendship is certainly growing,” Woods said. “It started here last year and our relationship has grown since then.”