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January 15, 2013

Tiger Woods talks about 'rivalry' and Rory McIlroy's switch to Nike

Tiger_roryTiger Woods and Rory McIlroy during a photo appearance in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are friends, sometime opponents, and now colleagues on the Nike Golf Staff, but they don't have a rivalry, not yet anyway, according to Woods.

At his press conference for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Tuesday, Woods said he agreed with McIlroy that the two have not faced off enough to create a true rivalry.

"It would be very similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil two years into my career," Woods said. "That wasn't the case."

So whom does Woods consider his rivals? Vijay Singh and Ernie Els.

"I've gone head-to-head against I think Ernie and Vijay the most over the course of my career," Woods said. "It takes time."

But if the clashes between him and McIlroy last year at the Honda Classic and the BMW Championship (both won by McIlroy) don't constitute a rivalry, Woods said it has been the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

"We've just had a good time, certainly give each other the needle quite a bit," Woods said. "That's always fun. And that's about it, and as far as advice or anything like that, no. He's got a great head on his shoulders and really understands, so if he ever needs any advice, then certainly he's more than -- he knows I'm open to it. I think our friendship certainly is growing and it's been fun."

Woods also fielded several questions about McIlroy's move to Nike. When asked if he was involved in bringing McIlroy onto the staff, Woods said: "No, that's his decision. He's a big boy. He can figure it out on his own." Asked if they'd be practicing together more in the Palm Beach area, where they both live, Woods said: "He does play out there at The Bear's Club, and I play up at Medalist quite a bit. Maybe he'll come up or I'll go down there ...I'm sure we'll have a few dinners together and certainly hang out a bit more."

It's clear that Woods sees a lot of himself in the 23-year-old McIlroy, especially the growing pains of experiencing phenomenal success at a young age. Sometimes, Woods sounds like he's talking about his younger self when he talks about McIlroy.

"It's tough sometimes, it really is," Woods said. "When you have success, there are more responsibilities that are at a tournament site and more distractions that are at a tournament site that are taking you away from what you like to do, which is compete and play.

"That's something that certainly he has learned and he's figured out and I think that was a big adjustment that he made this past summer, and consequently, he had a huge end of the year," Woods continued. "I think that was a good sign."

Talking about McIlroy even got Woods to engage in a little psychoanalysis, surely a press conference first for him.

Q. Just back to that chemistry between you and Rory, we have always had this perception of you as a guy who leaves nothing to chance, and we have seen Rory very laid back, almost missed his Ryder Cup time, wondering if you've been in that similar position ... is that what helps your friendship?

TIGER WOODS: You know, I'd be psychoanalyzing that a little bit, but --

Q. Go ahead.

TIGER WOODS: I like Rory as a person. He's a really nice kid. I think all of you guys are aware of that.

As far as being in a position like that, that he experienced at The Ryder Cup, I missed a tee time in a junior event, and I called in for my tee time, it was a two-day event and I called it in and I said, "Woods." And they gave me my tee time. Evidently, there was another Woods playing, as well. Actually it was Steve Woods. He played at San Jose State, but he was in the event, as well, and they gave me his time.

So I missed my tee time. I showed up at his time, and that was the only time I have ever been in a situation like, that and I vowed it would never happen again, because that was a pretty empty feeling knowing that all I had to do was give a little bit more detail, my first name, and all I had to do was -- it cost me a chance of winning a golf tournament, and that's I pretty empty feeling.

Last year, both Woods and McIlroy were in contention on Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but like what often happens when Woods and Mickelson are near the top of the leaderboard at the same event, someone else won (Robert Rock). However, Woods turned this solid beginning last year into a three-win season. He said he's hoping to do the same here and at Torrey Pines next week.

"As far as any statement, I just want to get off to a good start," Woods 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 and have tried to get mentally and physically ready for these two tournaments."

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