Mark O'Meara believes Rory McIlroy has a better game than Tiger Woods had at his age.
The American, a close friend of the world No1, witnessed the young European sensation at close quarters in the Dubai Desert Classic yesterday and watched in awe as the 19-year-old posted an eight-under par round of 64 to lead the tournament after the opening day.
"Tiger has developed his game and his swing over the years, and made a few modifications to be able to hit the ball pin-high, but Rory is already doing that and he's 19, so he's already a step ahead," said O'Meara.
"Ball-striking-wise, at 19, Rory's probably better than what Tiger was at his age. I think his technique is better. I understand he shot eight-under and played very solid, but it was a pretty easy eight-under to be honest with you. He made it look pretty simple.
"It was a joy to play with him and he's a tremendous young man," added the 52-year-old, who won the Classic in 2004.
"He handles himself extremely well, way above his years in maturity so, to me, that's just as important as well as he plays and his technique. There's nothing but bright things ahead for him, I'm sure."
McIlroy cites his performance in Switzerland, where he was narrowly defeated in a play-off in Crans last September, as the moment he started to believe he could compete on the Tour. The Northern Irishman has since recorded six more top 10 finishes and is rightly tipped to charge up the world rankings this year.
"It was just one good round in Switzerland that set me off and running and ever since then I realised how good I can be and how good I hope I can be," said the world No39. "That was probably the turning point in my season.
"And I had to adjust to life [on the Tour]. I found it difficult, obviously not as difficult as some of the guys, but when you travel week-in, week-out, and then play a month of golf, you just want to get home and forget about it for a week or so."
In a week when the Ryder Cup was very much in the headlines, McIlroy admitted he doesn't think too much about qualifying for next year's competition in Wales.
"I view the Ryder Cup as a bonus for playing well throughout the year, it's not a goal," he said. "It's not a target, but if you play well enough you're going to get on the team. So that's the way I sort of view it."
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