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 traveling. 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, meanwhile, played his way into contention, holding a share of the 54-hole lead with Viktor Hovland and becoming the fan favorite 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 toward 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 $20 million prize money payouts.