SHANGHAI • Rory McIlroy yesterday attributed Tiger Woods' historic 82nd PGA Tour win to a more "mellow" approach to life.
The 15-time Major champion reached another milestone with victory on Monday at the Zozo Championship in Japan, equalling Sam Snead's 54-year-old record.
While Woods will not be at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament, which starts today, his achievement was still all the rage in Shanghai, and the Northern Irishman offered to share how he felt his friend had changed as a person during a brilliant career punctuated by some high-profile personal problems.
McIlroy, who finished tied-third at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, said: "He's opened up a lot the last few years.
"I'm in a fortunate position that I live quite close to him (in Jupiter, Florida) and we've been able to develop quite a good relationship.
"I've seen in the private moments who he is as a person and what a great dad he is, how seriously he takes that side of his life as well. It's been great to see."
That more open and approachable manner has also been noted by Woods' fellow professionals. McIlroy said: "Previously in his career, he didn't take the camaraderie or the being one of the guys as seriously as he does now as he transitions to this latter part of his career. He probably sees the bigger picture a little more than he used to."
The former world No. 1 has also taken his fellow Americans Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler under his wing, becoming something of a mentor to them, and McIlroy claimed a roaring Woods could only be good for the sport.
"If Tiger's doing well, the game of golf in general thrives, so it's good for everyone involved and we're happy for him," the four-time Major winner added.
"He's been through a lot in terms of injuries and some of the breaks that he's had to take.
"Because he has opened up a little bit, people know what he's been through, and are happy that he's got through the other side of it and is playing great again."
END ON A WINNING NOTE
I'm happy with where everything is. Just want to finish the year off strongly because I feel the year that I've had deserves a finish like that.
RORY MCILROY, world No. 2 golfer, is gunning for Brooks Koepka's top ranking.
Turning his attention to the US$10.25 million (S$13.9 million) WGC-HSBC Champions event in China, where he heads a field stacked with Major winners, McIlroy revealed that his strongest season in years had "motivated" him to recapture golf's top ranking.
World No. 1 Brooks Koepka is also absent, but there is no lack of star power with Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Adam Scott all after the US$1.745 million winner's cheque.
A victory on Sunday will not enable McIlroy to leapfrog Koepka, but his aim is to "get as many world ranking points as I possibly can and try to close that gap on No. 1".
"If I play well the next few weeks, you know, I'll have a great platform going into next year. I've achieved most things that I've wanted to this year," he said. "I'm happy with where everything is.
"Just want to finish the year off strongly because I feel the year that I've had deserves a finish like that."