Tiger Woods may not be playing or practicing at the moment, but that didn’t stop him from generating excitement on the golf course Monday night.
The 14-time major champion appeared with current world number one Rory McIlroy and Tonight Showhost Jimmy Fallon at Liberty National Golf Club in a promotional event for Nike’s new Vapor iron clubs. Woods served as Fallon’s “coach,” feeding the late-night host with pointers but mostly ribbing as he and McIlroy tested the new clubs by driving balls toward several illuminated swooshes set up in the distance.
While Woods’ oft-injured back kept him from testing out the new clubs as much as he would have liked during their design process over the past year, he was the ever-effusive pitchman, noting the “deeper, heavier hit” of his new equipment. He was considerably less descriptive about his ongoing rehab routine, one that he’ll likely be on until at least December as he continues to recover from the bad back that has plagued him all season.
“It’s the same,” Woods told USA TODAY Sports. “Just trying to get stronger and trying to get all the muscles stable and strong and keep everything in place.”
Woods, who removed himself from Ryder Cup consideration last week, said he still plans to watch the tournament, which begins September 26, from home on television “as most people will.”
While Woods has been struggling to heal, McIlroy has been thriving. The 25-year-old has won his past three tournaments, two of them being the British Open and PGA Championship. Now that McIlroy has doubled his career majors total in less than a month, Woods no longer finds himself alone when the discussion of Jack Nicklaus’ record career total comes up.
“We’ve talked about it,” Woods said. “We’ve talked about a lot of different things. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the past couple of years. He’s a great kid. He’s got so much talent and he’s only going to continue to improve, which is going to be so much fun to watch.”
Yet Woods slightly bristles when asked if McIlroy’s emergence has given him extra incentive to get back to the top of his game.
“People fail to realize I went against Phil [Mickelson], Vijay [Singh] and Ernie [Els], Paddy [Harrington] and Goose [Retief Goosen] all those years. Each one won two, three, four, five major championships. I’ve had my run against quite a few players over the years,” he said. “Now Rory’s another one. And he’s younger. But there’s always going to be guys popping up and playing well. As long as you’re part of the conversation. That’s the thing. You want to be part of the conversation. Jack was part of the conversation for over 20 years. He had a pretty successful career and I’m coming up on my 20th season next year. As long as you’re part of it and involved in it, you’re doing pretty good.”