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Tiger gets taste of his own medicine from McIlroy

ESPN staff
January 16, 2013 « Dodson chasing pigs & squirrels to prepare for Johnson | Chartbeat test »
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are grouped together in Abu Dhabi © Getty Images
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He never once let on that it bothered him and seemed to have no problem with the subject. Perhaps it is because he'd rather talk about Rory McIlroy than himself.

Or maybe it is because Tiger Woods has been around long enough to know that questions about McIlroy are inevitable.

If nothing else, Woods might get a sense of how others have felt, as for years they have answered questions about him, regardless of what they may or may not have accomplished.

Woods, ranked No. 2 in the world and making his season debut this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, found himself discussing McIlroy more than himself on Tuesday morning in a news conference at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

From McIlroy's Nike deal to their budding friendship over the past year to having homes near each other in South Florida and to the inevitable queries about the potential for a rivalry, Woods heard it all, most of it Rory related. In fact, no fewer than 14 questions in less than 30 minutes had some sort of Rory angle.

"A lot of things are certainly changing in his life, and I think he wants … well, I've kind of been there and understand it," Woods said. "And it's nice when that's all said and done to get out there and compete and play. I'm sure that he's looking forward to Thursday, just like I think everyone else is in this field."

There are 124 players in the Abu Dhabi lineup, including the likes of Justin Rose, Ernie Els, Jason Dufner and Martin Kaymer.

But clearly most eyes will be on Woods and McIlroy, who, just like a year ago in this tournament, will be grouped together - this time along with three-time Abu Dhabi winner Kaymer - for the first two rounds.

They had never played together in an official tournament before last year's event, which saw them compete together for three rounds. Woods held a share of the lead heading into the final round and eventually finished tied for third behind winner Robert Rock and a stroke behind McIlroy.

They would go on to play a total of eight official rounds together in 2012, then go head-to-head twice in exhibitions. Now they've filmed a commercial for Nike and are linked as endorsers. Woods said he played no role in bringing McIlroy to the company that first signed him in 1996. "He's a big boy," Woods said. "He can figure it out on his own."

But there are indications that McIlroy has sought advice from Woods, picked his brain about things such as proper practice routines or handling the demands of fame. The Northern Irishman has said that he grew up admiring Woods and his game, and that has not changed, even though they are now on-course adversaries.

"You can really see, he's just a really good pro," McIlroy said of what he has noticed while observing Woods up close. "He gets his way around the golf course, and he hits really solid shots. He doesn't take too much on when he doesn't have to, but when he needs to, he can. He can look like he plays average and still shoot 67, which is a sign of a really good player.

"He's really experienced and knows how to get his ball around the golf course, and he still hits some unbelievably impressive shots. He's still got it."

There's been plenty of fanfare, plenty of buzz, surrounding McIlroy of late, his multimillion-dollar endorsement deal that puts him alongside Woods just one of many examples. But if there is any angst, any extra determination, any more motivation from all of this, Woods is not showing it.

"I just want to get off to a good start," he said. "I think it's important that I get off to a good, solid start. I'm playing two weeks in a row, and I had a nice break and have geared up for these two weeks [next week, Woods is playing the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour] and have tried to get mentally and physically ready for these two tournaments."

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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