NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom (AFP) - Rory McIlroy said Tiger Woods "doesn't have anything to prove to anyone" as the 14-time major winner battles to recover from injury and return to competitive golf.
The 41-year-old, who is a captain's assistant for the US team at this week's Presidents Cup in Jersey City, said Wednesday he has "no idea what my future holds".
McIlroy, who grew up idolising Woods and is now a friend, was asked for his reaction to Woods's remarks following his first round at the British Masters at Close House in Newcastle on Thursday.
"Tiger is the only one who knows whether or not he can return, so that's why he's taking it very slowly," said McIlroy.
"I spent a bit of time with him over the past few months and he's waiting on his doctors to tell him when he can do things again. He's going to take their advice and not be maybe quite as stubborn as he was maybe back in the day.
"But look, if he doesn't play again, he's been the greatest player that I've ever seen. He probably played the greatest golf that anyone in my lifetime has seen. I didn't really see Jack (Nicklaus) play. Jack has a better record but I don't know if he played better golf."
Woods last played in a tournament at the Dubai Desert Classic in January - withdrawing with back spasms.
He was arrested for driving under the influence near his home in Florida in May. Toxicology reports revealed he had a variety of prescription drugs in his system at the time.
"If this is it, he doesn't have anything to prove to anyone. He can walk away from this game with his head held extremely high and he's done wonders for this game," McIlroy said.
"I don't think there's a single figure in golf who did more for the game in terms of bringing different groups of people into the game, different ethnicities, different age groups, made golf cool in the 90s, when it really needed an injection of something.
"So he's a legend of the game and if this is it, then everyone should just applaud what a great career Tiger's had."