Rory McIlroy was asked many questions. But this almost made him cry.

Rory McIlroy on Tuesday in St Andrews during a practice round for the Open Championship.

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Walk a few feet this week in St Andrews, and you’ll be well on its way. Listen, and someone will tell you about it. Shoot, log into the Open Championship website, and you’ll find it all over the page. One hundred and fifty. That’s how many times they’ve played this thing. That’s a lot. Or, in particular, this is history.

Rory right?

He seems as much a part of the historical discussion as anyone these days. Main. No specialties. Leaf golf. No golf leaf. Etc. Even so, one layer of it brought proud Rory McIlroy tears. It would be wise to actually take a handkerchief yourself. There might also be some kind of lesson in all of that as well, but who’s to say.

The exchange came Monday afternoon, in an innocent enough television interview during the Celebration of Champions, a four-hole event in St Andrews that celebrated, yes, former World Open champions. McIlroy is teamed up with Tiger Woods, Lee Trevino and Georgia Hall, the 2018 Women’s Open champion.

“When I was a little boy, in elementary school, I did a project on your hero and inspiration, Mr. T. Woods,” said analyst Tim Barter.

Before the swap even finished, McIlroy was smiling.

“Yes,” McIlroy said.

“Is it almost surreal now to be a good friend with him, to be a teammate at the Open and to be here at this amazing event and play with him?” Barter said.

McIlroy took a deep breath, then answered.

“Yeah, kind of…

There was a pause here.

“A little emotional in a way,” he continued, in a broken voice.

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“Ah, yeah, it’s incredible to think…just…if you were to tell 10 year old Rory at the time that you were going to do this, I wouldn’t have believed you until you got my name on the claret pot, umm, to be so close.” Like me from my hero growing up and being a part of something like this – you know, going to, you know, doing that with Lee Trevino, Georgia Hall, you know, all the great heroes who’s gathered here today, to do the Champions Gala Dinner tomorrow at the R&A Club, Where there’s Jack Nicklaus, you know, on the first tee, it’s just tight moments.

“Ah, it’s really really cool, and I’m so fortunate and humbled to be a part of all of that.”

Good stuff, right? There’s an old saying about roses and stop smelling them, and that’s it. We should all do this, if we can. Hey, even the guy with whom McIlroy was most closely aligned, the player most associated with achievement is up in the air.

If you also think Woods has been acting, shall we say, quite differently lately, you’re not alone. How else would you explain the 15-time main champ, the self-described mill…putting McIlroy’s golf balls on Monday on St. Andrews putting green? Or… Justin Thomas’s teasing in front of the camera on Sunday for not winning an Open Championship? Some of this has to do with the moment: Ask any players this week about playing at home golf, and they’ll be just as happy as the old course out of date. There is no doubt that Woods is happy to be here after his events over the past year.

But perhaps the biggest part, McIlroy believes, is that at age 46, Woods has begun to evaluate things.

“I’ve gotten to know Tiger quite well for the last decade or more, and he is in special moments, more than anyone really believes,” McIlroy said on Tuesday during his pre-tournament press conference. “But I think maybe that side is showing a little more, this side of himself a little bit more to the public over the past few years.

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“And since his career is kind of – it’s ending, I guess you could say – I think now he appreciates everything he’s done in the game. I think Tiger’s mindset has always been, well, on the next mentality, on the next, on the next.

“I think, especially after the Masters in ’19, to sit back and think about his career, I think he probably appreciates everything a little bit more now, and that’s part of the reason why I see that kind of lightness and the most cheerful person on the golf course, I think.”

Back to McIlroy. At 33, is he in such a reversal point? yes. Nor. It’s a few of the two. But who would say that you don’t value where you are, and yearn for more? And as he looks to win a major this week for the first time in eight years, that’s a notable combination.

McIlroy was also asked this question by a reporter: “Rory, you were talking earlier about how Tiger could be enjoying his accomplishments more now that he is looking back. I appreciate that you are at a different stage in your career, but as you continue to wait for another major, do you find Do you look back on your achievement with more pride? And does that weight make you more determined to get your hands on another discipline?”

“I’m definitely not at the stage of my career memories yet,” McIlroy said. “I’m very proud of my accomplishments, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in the game, but I know there’s still a lot I want to achieve and a lot that I can achieve.

“I look fondly at what I’ve done so far, but I still feel like I’ve got another decade or so of great golf left in me. So yeah, I’m looking resolutely ahead and trying to make the most of whatever stint I have left in this game” .

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Nick Piastovsky

Nick Piastovsky

Golf.com Editor
Nick Piastovsky is a senior editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native will probably play the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash down his score. You can reach him about any of these topics – his stories, his game, or his beer – at nick.piastowski@golf.com.

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