Rory McIlroy’s accomplishments in 2022 were as impressive as any season in his 13-year professional career, and that was before revealing a twist that occurred in July that he had not previously spoken about.
What had been known was that the 33-year-old Northern Irishman won three times and had 12 top-five finishes in 22 overall starts during the year. He claimed the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup, the DP World Tour’s season-long points title and returned to No.1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Off the course, he stood out as a clear, consistent and passionate defender of his two home tours amid the rise of LIV Golf, the controversial Saudi-back group that aimed to disrupt the pro golf ecosystem by poaching some of the top-ranked player in the game.
What the public wasn’t aware of was that a week before The 150th Open at St Andrews, McIlroy thinks he came down with COVID, and believes he could have passed it on to Tiger Woods.
Speaking in an interview with the Irish Independent, the first part published on Sunday, McIlroy told Paul Kimmage the story of when he and Tiger went to play a round of golf at Ballybunion two days after the pair competed at the J.P. McManus Pro-Am at Ireland’s Adair Manor. It was July 7, the Thursday before the opening round of The Open at the Old Course, and McIlroy says he and Woods flew via helicopter to Ballybunion to play a casual round that morning. Accompanying them was McIlroy’s manager, Sean O’Flaherty and Tiger’s longtime confidant, Rob McNamara.
McIlroy says in the interview that he woke up that morning feeling “a bit achy” but didn’t think twice about travelling. But upon returning to Adair Manor, McIlroy said he felt stiff and tired.
“I said to [wife] Erica, ‘I’m feeling a bit weird. I’m just going upstairs to lie down for a bit.’ I slept for maybe two hours and the sweat was just pouring off me, then Erica took my temperature and it was sky high. I rang Tiger: ‘I’m not feeling so good here.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, I feel OK.’ But he texted me at 10 o’clock that night, chills, fever, and I’m like, F*****g hell, I’ve just given Tiger COVID! This is horrendous! So we both had COVID going into the Open.”
McIlroy did not say in the interview whether he tested positive for COVID, but noted that he quarantined at Adair Manor rather than go early as planned to St Andrews.
“It probably took me until the Sunday to start feeling better. If it had happened last year, with everything that was going on in my game, I would have been in a panic, but I was in a good place and thought,‘ I’ll be fine. On Tuesday night, I went to the Champions Dinner and it was lovely. I was sitting there drinking water and they poured a glass of wine, a lovely 2005 Bordeaux, and I was like, Ahh, I’ll just have a little sip, but I couldn’t taste it. The whole week of the Open I didn’t have any taste, and everything smelled like vinegar to me. Everything. It was really strange.”
McIlroy and Woods played together again on Monday of Open week at St Andrews in the R&A’s Celebration of Champions exhibition, along with LPGA tour pro Georgia Hall and Hall of Famer Lee Trevino. Woods went on to play in the Open, just his third tournament start of 2022, but missed the cut as the question of whether that week was his last at St Andrews as a competitive golfer became a dominant storyline.
McIlroy, meanwhile, played his way into contention, holding a share of the 54-hole lead with Viktor Hovland and becoming the fan favourite to win the claret jug on Sunday. But it didn’t come to pass; McIlroy shot a closing 70 and watched as Cameron Smith shoot a 64 to pull out the victory.
Apparently, Woods didn’t hold any hard feelings towards McIlroy. A month later the two announced they were collaborating on the creation of new sports/entertainment venture, TMRW Sports. They also helped spearhead a players’ only meeting during the week of the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship in August.
During that meeting, several suggested changes to the tour’s schedule were discussed that were eventually passed on to PGA Tour officials and announced as being implemented for the 2023 season by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, including the creation of more “elevated” events where top players on tour would compete together for $US20 million prizemoney payouts.
McIlroy and Woods will be playing together again December 10 as the pair are set to participate in the latest edition of “The Match” along with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida.