Tiger Woods has been sharing secrets of ‘the craft,’ Rory McIlroy says

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have been spending more time together.

Getty Images

In an appearance on Off the Ball’s Golf Weekly podcast, Rory McIlroy was asked just how in touch Tiger Woods stays with his golf. Will he check in with McIlroy, say — every week?

McIlroy corrected podcast host Nathan Murphy.

“Every other day, almost,” McIlroy said.

He was speaking ahead of the Horizon Irish Open, McIlroy’s first tournament since struggling through a back injury to finish fourth at the Tour Championship at East Lake. It’s been a remarkably consistent run for McIlroy, who is World No. 2, nipping at the heels of No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and expected to lead Team Europe at the Ryder Cup in several weeks’ time.

At McIlroy’s most-anticipated event of the season, the Masters, McIlroy missed the cut. He looked lost in a T47 finish at the Wells Fargo a month later. Since then? He’s been on a ridiculous run of form, logging nine consecutive top-nine finishes — including an impressive win at the Genesis Scottish Open — before the playoff finale.

Some of that success has come thanks to McIlroy’s short game. He finished the 2022-23 season 15th in strokes gained around the green, up from 43rd in 2021-22 and 71st in 2020-21. It’s fair to wonder if any of that improvement comes from sessions with his neighbor.

“Yeah, he’s a great resource,” McIlroy said of Woods. “If there’s anything I ever need to ask, we don’t live too far from each other in Florida. He’s shown me some things that I don’t know if he’s shown anyone else but [Woods’ son] Charlie. Maybe JT as well.”

The host rightly followed up to press McIlroy for details. What are some of those things?

“Just some different shots around the greens,” he told Off the Ball. “He’s the biggest golf nerd I’ve ever come across. He knows everything about everything. He watches everything. He lets on he doesn’t but he watches so much and like, he analyzes guys’ moves — he just loves the game.”

We’ve heard before about these backyard short-game sessions with Woods and Thomas or select others. I’ve always thought of these as the acoustic sessions of a top musician; here’s the game, stripped down to its essentials by the best to ever do it.

That Woods has invited McIlroy into these exercises is a reminder just how much their relationship has changed. When the Northern Irishman came onto the scene he was just the latest in a line of heirs doomed to fall short in their attempt to fill Woods’ enormous shoes. He starred in one commercial reminding us that Woods had been his boyhood idol. He starred in another reminding us Woods was his current rival.

These days? The two are business partners and confidantes. They’ve started a company together, TMRW (TW being Tiger Woods, RM being Rory McIlroy, TMRW being the latest in our society’s rejection of vowels) and a golf league, TGL (TMRW, golf league edition) and Woods has now joined McIlroy on the PGA Tour’s Policy Board, too. The two have come a long way.

It’s interesting, then, that McIlroy’s greatest insight into his rival-turned-friend-turned-business-partner-turned-practice partner is something essential: Behind the celebrity status and billion-dollar Tiger Woods empire is a guy obsessed with improving at golf.

“I think what set him apart when he was at his best was that he loved the pursuit of trying to master his craft. And that really comes out when he’s describing things,” McIlroy said.

“Even if you’ve got a chip shot that’s got a right-to-left slope on the green; he’s hitting it with cut spin to take out the slope. Just — the craft. I’ve never seen anyone else like that.”

There are no cameras for these sessions, of course. That’s the whole point. Tiger Woods Unplugged. So the rest is left to our imaginations. How secret can a chip shot really be?

Win four majors and move to south Florida. Then maybe you’ll find out.

You can see the complete clip below:

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.