Now he’ll get to see him up close again — and when it counts — during the first two rounds of this week’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.
McIlroy said he wasn’t surprised to learn he was grouped with Woods and Justin Thomas and joked that he would have preferred a “quiet couple of days.” But like most players of his caliber, the 28-year-old McIlroy embraces it.
“I’ve been a Tiger fan for the last 20 years,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “I think anyone who is maybe my age and even a little bit older and a little bit younger was inspired by him because of what he did on the golf course and how he approached the game. He was golf for the better part of a decade, if not more. So it’s cool to have been able to get to know him and call him a friend.
“We play a little bit together down in Florida and live quite close to each other. It’s sometimes surreal. I remember meeting him for the first time, and then I remember playing with him for the first time. It is funny because I remember all the big moments that he’s had, and you’re teeing up alongside that guy. That was eight, nine years ago, so I’ve sort of got used to it by now. But still, whenever you get a chance to play alongside one of your heroes, it’s always nice.”
Woods, McIlroy and Thomas tee off at 10:22 a.m. ET on Thursday and at 3:03 p.m. on Friday.
The first time Woods and McIlroy played together was during the 2010 Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood.
“I was playing pretty good and sort of trying to keep alongside of him, especially at that point you’re looking at everything he does so you know exactly what score he’s on, what score you’re on,” McIlroy said. “I doubled the last for 2 under (70) and he birdied the last for 66, so it was pretty close up until that little three-shot swing at the end.”
Since then, Woods and McIlroy have played 11 times on the PGA Tour, the last coming during the final round of the 2015 Masters, where McIlroy shot 66 and Woods 73. During those 11 rounds, Woods had the lower score six times; they also shot equal scores ties. McIlroy and Woods also played together during the first two round rounds of the 2014 Dubai Desert Classic.
“There’s a lot of movement around,” McIlroy said of the scene with Woods during a round. “You just try and get the honor (to play first off the tee) as quick as you can and try to keep it so not everyone’s moving when you’re (swinging). But it’s fine. It’s good fun. I would rather be in this group than not.”