LOS ANGELES – Rory McIlroy's up-close look at Tiger Woods has the Northern Ireland star convinced the 14-time major champion is "very close" in his latest comeback bid.
McIlroy, owner of four major titles himself, played alongside Woods in the first two rounds of the Genesis Open.
Even though Woods missed the cut, McIlroy believes the man who once seemed certain to challenge Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles can contend again.
"He's very close," McIlroy said. "Give him a little bit of time. He's still figuring a few things out with equipment, I think, sort of in between drivers and whatever, but he's close."
Woods struggled to hit fairways at the Riviera Country Club, just as he did en route to a tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines three weeks earlier – his first US PGA Tour event in a year.
He was also irked by his irons and, on Friday, uncomfortable with his putter.
But McIlroy said there were enough glimpses of the old short-game magic to warrant optimism.
"I thought his short game display (Thursday) was very, very impressive," McIlroy said. "He struggled a little bit more (Friday), but he hits enough good shots to know that if he sort of pieces it all together, he's going to be right there.
"I think everyone just has to be patient with him, especially him being patient with it and just give himself time," added McIlroy, himself coming off a lengthy break after enduring an injury-ravaged 2017.
While aspects of Woods's game may be missing, his passion for golf remains plain, McIlroy said.
"There's no bigger golf nerd in the world than Tiger Woods," McIlroy said. "He absolutely loves it."
And golf fans still love him, for both good and ill, McIlroy found as he coped with the boisterous galleries that followed Woods's every move – with little regard for the efforts of his playing partners.
"I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field," McIlroy said of the jostling and jockeying and unsolicited advice from fans.
"It's tiring," McIlroy conceded. "I've got a headache after all that. He has to deal with that every single time he goes out to play."