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Golf | US Masters

Tiger is still tops, says McIlroy

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have shared the world No 1 ranking this year, but talk of an all-encompassing rivalry between the two is premature, the Irishman said on Tuesday.

Speaking ahead of his fifth appearance in the Masters, the year's first major, McIlory said that a quick a look at their respective playing records proved his point.

"I don't see myself a rival to Tiger or to anyone," he said.

"Tiger obviously has been on tour, for, what, 12 more years than me or something like that.

"When you speak of rivals, you tend to put rivals who have had similar success. He's got 77 PGA Tour events (wins); I've got six.

"He's got 14 majors; I've got two. If I saw myself a rival to Tiger, I wouldn't really be doing him much justice."

Woods, however, said that he was in no doubt that McIlroy was currently his main rival for top golfer spot.

"I think that over the course of my career, I've had a few (rivals)." he said.

"You know, certainly Rory is this generation. I've had Phil (Mickelson) and Vijay (Singh) and Ernie (Els)) and David (Duval) for a number of years, and now Rory's the leader of this new, younger generation."

What is not in doubt is that McIlroy and Woods will be the joint centres of attention this week at the 77th edition of the Augusta National classic with many hoping that they will both play well enough to be in a position to go head-to-head over the back nine on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Ulsterman started the year as an outstanding world No 1 and the biggest draw in the game since Woods at his prime.

But a switch of golfing equipment and a loss of focus saw him mired in a form slump that resulted in a run of missed cuts and a much-publicized stomp off the course during a round at the Honda Classic when he admitted that his head "was all over the place."

At the same time, 37-year-old Woods completed his return to something like his best form with three wins on the US Tour that saw him regain the top spot in the rankings for the first time since October 2010.

Subsequently, McIlroy, in search of more competitive golf, stepped up his schedule by adding the Texas Open last week and he finally came good with a closing round of 66, which gave him a second place finish behind Martin Laird.

He now believes that his breaking-in period with his new golf clubs and ball is at an end and that he can mount a real challenge to win his first Masters and third major title after the 2011 US Open and the 2012 PGA Championship.

"I'm very comfortable and I'm 100 percent there," he said of his current form coming into Augusta National.

"I wanted to do it all (clubs switch) at the start of the year. I didn't want to leave it for a while and say, 'OK, I'll put something in in dribs and drabs.'

"I just wanted to get it all in, get it all settled and have it over and done with, so eight, nine months down the line, I don't have to say, 'OK, right, I need to try to get this in or that in.'

"I just wanted to get it all in straightaway. I'm really comfortable with everything and I feel like they are a part of me now and that's the way a golf club should be."

McIlroy also said that he had learned some keys about the way to play the famed Georgia layout from his four previous visits, including his dramatic collapse in the final round of 2011.

On that occasion he led by four strokes going into Sunday's play, but an over-aggressive game off the tee saw him collapse to an eight-over 80, which left him a tie for 15th place.

This time, he said, he will favour a more conservative approach off the tee.

"If it suits my eye to hit a certain club off the tee and not force myself to hit a driver to try to get it down there as far as possible, that's what I will do," he said.

"Of course you still have to be aggressive around this golf course, but I think there's times where you have to put it in play, put it in the middle of the fairway, and instead of trying to give yourself an eight or nine iron into the green, know that you're going to have just as good of a chance hitting a six or seven iron."


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