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McIlroy: I can fill Tiger void

ESPN staff
April 3, 2014 « Paulinho told to earn Spurs place | Test Wayin World Cup »
McIlroy: Woods' Masters absence a huge blow

Rory McIlroy can't remember a time when men's golf has so clearly lacked a dominant figure, or figures, heading into The Masters.

Welcome to the Tiger Woods-lite 2014, a year full of those hoping to contend on the PGA Tour rather than one player who expects to win each and every week.

McIlroy, after his pro-am at the Houston Open on Wednesday, said he hadn't talked with Woods since news broke of Monday's back surgery that will keep him out of next week's visit to Augusta National.

The Northern Irishman and former world No.1 also said golf overall, not just next week's Masters, is seemingly as wide open as it's been during his time as a pro.

DeLaet warning for Woods

Graham DeLaet had his surgery aged 29, while Tiger Woods has gone under the knife at 38 © Getty Images
  • Tiger Woods has been warned by fellow PGA Tour player Graham DeLaet not to rush back to action following back surgery.
  • Canadian DeLaet also had a microdiscectomy and was sidelined for 12 months.
  • "We were optimistic that I'd be back in three or four months, but it took much longer," DeLaet told the Daily Telegraph.
  • "It took me basically a year to really feel comfortable to really attack the ball, especially from deep lies in the rough where I really had to go at it.
  • "I was in a pretty rough shape beforehand. I don't know what kind of shape Tiger was in, obviously not very good if he ended up with the surgery.
  • "I was hitting balls on the range after four months and tried to come back after six months. But I then played for two weeks and knew I was not ready and shut down for another six months."

"Golf's in a funny place at the minute," McIlroy said. "It's almost like golf is waiting for someone to stamp their authority on the game and be that dominant player."

Steven Bowditch earned his first PGA Tour win at last week's Texas Open in San Antonio, becoming the 17th different winner in this season's 20 events.

Jimmy Walker leads the tour this season with three wins. The Texan, in another sign of the changing of the guard in golf these days, went 187 starts on the PGA Tour without winning before capping a stretch of three wins in eight tournaments at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February. Zach Johnson is this season's only other multiple winner when he won the World Challenge and Tournament of Champions either side of Christmas.

The parity is a far cry from Woods' peak when he won nine events in 2000 and eight in both 1999 and 2006. And Woods isn't alone in achieving dominance after the turn of the century, with Vijay Singh also winning nine times in 2004.

McIlroy mentioned both Woods and Singh on Wednesday while also saying golf needs a few players to "put their hands up and try and be the dominant players in this game because that's what people like to see".

So who does McIlroy think can claim the mantle Woods has left vacant?

"I hope it's me," he said with a smile. "I'd like to establish myself as that sort of player and someone's got to step up so I'm trying to be that person and it would be a great place to start next week."

McIlroy added that it did not come as a shock when the news filtered through that his good friend Woods had pulled out of the season's opening major championship.

"I knew that it was going to happen," he told BBC Sport, "but I didn't realise it was so serious that he needed surgery.

"Obviously everyone wishes him a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back very soon because golf is better with Tiger Woods playing."

On why the previously invincible Woods is so injury prone these days, McIlroy has his own theories.

"He's had four operations on his left knee, he's had operations on his Achilles," the world No.7 said.

"There are obviously some weak points in his lower body and, with how big he is in his upper body, there's obviously going to be something that has to take the strain. It seems like his lower back has been maybe working a little harder than it should have, to compensate for the surgeries he's had in his lower body.

"It's just caught up with him, so I think surgery is a good thing for him and he'll rehab it the right way. He's got the best advice in the world so he will only come back when he's ready to play.

"He'll come back healthy and obviously put the right procedures and structures in place to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Bowditch, preparing for his Masters debut, echoed McIlroy's sentiment.

"Tiger, in any atmosphere, creates an unbelievable atmosphere," the Australian said. "What Tiger has done for the game of golf is unbelievable. To not have him there at the Masters is not the greatest."

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have become good friends in the past two years © AP
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