McGinley: Tiger can push Rory

McIlroy soared to the top of the world rankings after winning two majors in 2014 while Woods spent most of the year on the sidelines following back surgery.

Woods returned to action last month as he hosted the Hero World Challenge in Florida armed with a “new, old swing” constructed under the watchful eye of biomechanics coach Chris Como.

The 39-year-old was generally consistent from tee to green, but his short-game was in disarray as he finished last in the elite 18-man field – 26 shots behind runaway winner Jordan Spieth.

But McGinley expects a healthy Woods to climb back up the world rankings this year, and the victorious Ryder Cup captain hopes to see a number of showdowns between the 14-time major champion and McIlroy.

“I saw Tiger play in his tournament and the one thing that was very clear, and speaking to some of the guys that have played with him recently too, is that he’s got his distance back,” McGinley told Reuters.

“If you are playing at the top level in professional golf now you’ve got to be hitting the ball a long way. Rory has got that, he’s one of the longest hitters in the world, and it looks like Tiger has got that back. That’s going to be a big asset for him.

“Rivalries are what sport is built on. For somebody to rise up this year and have a real head-to-head battle with Rory would be great for our sport.”

Woods has attracted many critics over the last few years for his on-course behaviour as well as his infamous off-course transgressions, but McGinley admits he remains the star attraction every time he tees up.

“Tiger is one of those guys that moves the needle in so many ways,” added McGinley. “Not everybody is a fan of Tiger and some people like to see him doing badly so he moves the needle one way or the other.

“On the other side it’s been seven years since he won a major championship. There’s pressure on him to reach Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major wins and it’ll be interesting to see how competitive he is this year.

“If he gets into contention at a major, will he be able to follow through and win? He’s made changes, he has gone back to trying to find the golf swing he used as a young boy and a swing that comes natural to him.

“It’s very difficult to do what Tiger has done. Very few players have done that. Nick Faldo did it and Padraig Harrington did it, completely ripping apart their swings, putting it back together and still being successful.

“Tiger has gone backwards and it will be interesting to see if he can use that to go forwards and use it as a base to win major championships again.”

But McGinley also expects McIlroy to add significantly to his tally of four major crowns, and he believes the Northern Irishman will be tough to dislodge at the top of the world rankings.

He said: “There are a lot more wins in Rory yet. He’s incredibly talented, he’s proved himself at the very top level and he’s the undisputed No 1 player in the world.”