Woods and McIlroy played together in Round 1 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
After a week when the stock market tumbled and Tiger Woods failed to miss a Saturday cut at a golf course where he's won eight times, you had to wonder if the axis of the earth had shifted permanently. The answer to at least half of that, the Tiger Woods half, is no. Things are almost back in place.
At the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Woods opened with a four-under round, but even with that, he was not the star. The leading man after one round was Rory McIlroy who shot a scorching 63. They played in the same grouping with a lesser-known player, Stephen Gallacher of Scotland, who split the difference with a six-under. For everyone in that tee time, it was progress.
"I won my first tournament here as a pro in '09," McIlroy recalled about his first time in Dubai as a pro. "Obviously whenever you come back to a place where you've got a win like that, you're going to have special memories and fond memories."
Unfortunately, McIlroy was searching for good memories most of 2013. He said it was not until late last year when he felt his game was coming together after nearly a 12-month slump.
"Getting that win (in Australia over Adam Scott) was very important," he added, saying he hoped to carry that same feeling into 2014. "I had a great two weeks here at the start of the year, practiced really well, and that gave me the confidence knowing that I could stand up in my first tournament of the season and contend right away."
McIlroy's first tournament this year was Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. There, he finished tied for second with Phil Mickelson. Dubai is McIlroy's second event of 2014.
Despite McIlroy's 63 and his international popularity, eyes of the world of golf were squarely on the play of Tiger Woods. Could he or couldn't he post a low score?
Collective sigh of relief. He did, and he credited a shorter swing.
"I've always played my best when I'm in a shorter position," Woods said. "If you look back in my younger days on Tour, it was even shorter than it is now. Only difference is I can't wheel on it like I used to. Just snapping at the end to get the power and get the rotation. If I did that now, I'd destroy the knee just like I did before, which is why I had so many operations on it. So in a shorter position like that without snapping at the end, and put it out there. Overall it was a pretty good score. Maybe could have gotten two more out of it?"
He also said he hit some better putts, which he admitted he failed to do last week. He said he was just not sharp at Torrey Pines.
"I was just a fraction off, and a fraction off on a golf course set up that hard, it bit a lot of us, and unfortunately it bit me pretty hard," he admitted. "I think the average score was just over 73 on Saturday, and I shot 79."
Looking ahead to the 2014 major championships, Woods said he needed to be patient and be in position.
"I certainly look at my career. I haven't won them all each and every year I competed as a pro. But the thing is, I've got to keep putting myself there, and if I can keep doing that, I'll start clicking a few here and there. The key is to just keep putting myself there," he explained. "These four venues are four venues that I've played well at. Three I've won at, and one I'm trending in the right way. I'm looking forward to these major championships and this season in general."
Woods is also looking ahead to Ryder Cup, although he is far down on any list at this juncture.
"I don't think I'm even on the team right now, points wise. I've got to get myself there first," he said, adding as though he fully intends to be on the team, "it'll be fun to play in Scotland."
While Woods typically does not announce tournaments far in advance, he has taken a shine to the Honda Classic played near his new home in South Florida. He will likely be at the WGC event at Doral and usually plays Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill and the Tavistock Cup, which is a Monday-Tuesday competition between private clubs. Then it will be on to The Masters.
McIlroy said he would go to the Accenture Match Play, Honda Classic, and WGC Cadillac at Doral, and that he is unsure which even he would enter prior to The Masters except that he would play in Houston. The rest of the year, he expects to be similar to previous seasons.
What did one round today mean?
When Rory McIlroy was beating Tiger Woods by four strokes earlier today, the words of one of Fred Couples' friends came into my head. He used to say that Fred always beat the guys he was playing with, at least that is what happened when Couples was in his prime. Couples used to say that Tiger Woods always beat the guys he was playing with. Hearing that twice, once from Couples, I got the drift.
Now, guys like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are beating the guys they play with, including Tiger Woods. It's something to consider. Woods is going to have to step on some necks to get majors to fall his way this season. We know he can do it because he's done it 14 times. Do you hear 15? It will be interesting to watch.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.