Speaking to the media, the Northern Irishman shared his memories of the first time he saw his idol in the flesh
Rory Remembers: The First Time I Saw Tiger Live
Ahead of this year’s Irish Open, tournament and fan favourite Rory McIlroy recalled his first in-the-flesh encounter with Tiger Woods when Mount Juliet hosted the 2002 WGC American Express Championship.
McIlroy, who would have been 13 at the time, was able to use his size to get so close to Woods at the closing ceremony that he could’ve nicked the glove from out of his hero’s back pocket.
“I remember quite a bit,” McIlroy began. “I said to Harry, the last time I was on the 18th green here was during the prize ceremony when Tiger won, and I remember I somehow sneaked my way like under the rope onto the back of the green, and I was standing right behind him and his glove was still in his back pocket.
“And I could have reached and got it and ran; it would have been a good story to tell him but I obviously didn’t.
“It was the first time I ever watched Tiger play live. I remember the first shot I ever saw him hit was a drive off the 5th hole, the par 5, and he hit a 2-iron into the green. It was really cool.
“I idolised him growing up and to actually see the man in the flesh was pretty exciting.
“And then in 2004, I had sort of made a name for myself in the amateur scene at that point and I had gotten to know Chubby [Chandler] and Darren [Clarke] and stuff, so I was a little more in the — I remember being in the clubhouse and stuff and meeting Ernie [Els] after he won. I had a little more access then because of that.
“But yeah, really good memories coming down here watching. It’s amazing that it’s been 17 years and the tournament hasn’t been back since. Glad to be back and certainly a lot’s changed in the last 17 years since the last time I was here.”
A lot has changed. From making a name for himself as an amateur to winning four majors, two FedEx Cups, a Players Championship and becoming the World No. 1, it’s safe to say McIlroy has done pretty well for himself in the ensuing years.
He’s even become more than just a colleague of Woods, going to visit the 15-time major winner as he recovers from severe injuries he suffered in a car crash back in February.
The Irish Open kicks off a run of three consecutive events for the 32-year-old that he’ll be hoping ends with him hoisting the claret jug for the second time.