As a starry-eyed, 16-year-old, Rory McIlroy finished his round at the 2006 Dubai Desert Classic and then dashed back to the golf course to follow Tiger Woods and marvel at the brilliance of the then world No1.
Sixteen years later, their roles seem to have reversed. McIlroy is the world No1 and probably the best golfer in the world, but it’s not just his on-course heroics that is wowing Woods. The 15-time major champion is loving the Northern Irishman’s inspiring leadership on the PGA Tour as well as matters outside the golf course.
Speaking exclusively to Gulf News in Albany, where he is hosting the Hero World Challenge tournament featuring 20 of the top-ranked players in the world, Woods said: “I think what Rory has done as a leader off the golf course has been exceptional.
“People don’t see him in the boardrooms like I have, and they haven’t seen what he’s doing behind closed doors. The respect level that he’s earned through his play is there, but now on a higher level because of what he’s shown us in the boardrooms and FaceTime.”
Woods was referring to his recent boardroom interactions with McIlroy as founding partners of a sports event and tech company called ‘TMRW’ – pronounced ‘Tomorrow’ and cleverly incorporating the initials of both the players. The company has attracted investment and interest from several well-known athletes and celebrities, including Stephen Curry, Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams, Tony Romo, Andy Murray and Justin Timberlake.
McIlroy has been a vocal supporter of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour and he has also backed it up on the golf course. The four-time major champion won the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour and the Race to Dubai on the DP World Tour and reclaimed the world No1 ranking this year. He won three titles on the PGA Tour and finished inside the top-eight in all four major championships.
“What Rory has said and done is what leaders do. He is a true leader out here on Tour. The fact that he’s actually able to get the things he said out in the public eye, be so clear-minded with it and so eloquent with it, and meanwhile also go out there and win golf tournaments on top of that, people have no idea how hard that is to do,” said the 46-year-old Woods.
“He’s been fantastic. He’s a great leader in the calls we make (on the Tour) and he’s a great leader with all the players out here. Everyone respects him and they respect him not just because of his ball-striking, his driving, but because of the person that he is.”
The Hero World Challenge features six of the top-10 players in the world, including the recent DP World Tour Championship winner Jon Rahm (world No5) and No2 Scottie Scheffler. The highest-ranked player in the 20-man field is No33 Corey Conners. Viktor Hovland is the defending champion.