Two years ago, Rory McIlroy met Tiger Woods for lunch at the then 14-time major winner’s restaurant in Florida and came away from it with thinking the same as many others.
Now? He wouldn’t be surprised if the former world No.1 used his Masters victory as a springboard to go on and win at least four more majors and eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 wins in golf’s events that matter most.
“It rejuvenates, re-energises that narrative,” said McIlroy of Woods’ stunning triumph at Augusta last month. “A lot of people were comparing it to Jack in '86 and everyone knew that was going to be Jack's last major championship. [But] Tiger could be competitive at Augusta for the next ten years if his body holds up.”
His body – that’s the huge, constant ‘if’ that hangs over Woods in his pursuit of Jack’s record.
It has taken four back surgeries, culminating in a spinal fusion in April 2017, to get Tiger back to winning ways.
Speaking ahead of this week's Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, McIlroy recalled seeing him at one of his lowest ebbs.
“I had lunch with him in Jupiter just over two years ago,” he revealed. “It was March 2017, coming off the back of another surgery or whatever. All he was thinking about was quality of life, watching his kids grow up, being able to play soccer in the backyard.
“So, his mind wasn't even on golf, which sort of told me he was thinking this could be it. I think from stories that I've heard of the Champions Dinner at Augusta that year, he was sort of saying the same things.”
All of which makes his Masters victory three weeks ago all the more impressive.
“It's a big deal to come back from what he has,” added McIlroy. “I don't think people quite appreciate what has gone into it. It just shows he's gritty, he's determined. It's always been one of his best qualities and it was awesome to see. For everyone in golf, whether you're a player, whether you're in the media, or whatever, it's just great for our game in general. I think it was a great day.”