Rory McIlroy recalls defeating Tiger Woods at Cognizant

OK, it wasn’t called Cognizant at the time.  It was the Honda Classic, but what made it special for Rory McIlroy in 2012 was that he beat Tiger Woods.  And it wasn’t easy because Woods made a back nine charge.

Vintage McIlroy winning 2012 Honda Classic to go to No. 1
Vintage McIlroy winning 2012 Honda Classic to go to No. 1 / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

McIlroy had the lead, and he was on the 13th green. Woods was on the 18th.  

“I heard the huge roar, and it definitely wasn't a birdie roar,” McIlroy said at the time. “I was just about to line up my putt for birdie on 13, I was able to hole that putt, which was very important.”  

He said he knew if he could play the last five holes even or better, it would clinch the title. It was definitely made more special by beating Woods.  

“I knew what I needed to do,” he said after his victory. “There was no uncertainty, okay, maybe he can do this or he can do that. There was 10‑under in the clubhouse, so I knew what I needed to do to win.”

At the Cognizant, the new title sponsor for the West Palm Beach event, McIlroy reminisced a little bit about that time in his life.  He had rented a house in Florida, but he didn’t own one then.  Now, he’s married, owns a mansion in the Bear’s Club development, and he and his wife have a daughter, Poppy. And he definitely remembers how he played the final holes on the way to victory.

“I remember Tiger making that charge on the Sunday and then sort of having to hold on the last five holes,” he said at the Cognizant pre-tournament press conference. “I made two really good ups and downs on 15 and 17. And, yeah, no, it was a really cool moment. I can't believe it's 12 years ago, but here we are.”

In fact, the Honda Classic in 2012 was just McIlroy’s third PGA Tour title. He now has 24, four more than he needs to have a lifetime exemption on Tour, never mind the nine additional victories on the DP World Tour. But in 2012, he was just getting started. He would go on that season to win the PGA in August, followed by the Deutsche Bank and the BMW. In addition, he won the DP World Tour Championship in November for the first time.

At the time of his Honda victory, he knew that would take him to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings, and it was important to him.

“With being able to go to the top of the World Rankings, it meant a lot to go out there and produce the golf that I needed to do to get the job done,“ he said at the time. “It was always a dream of mine to become the world No. 1 and the best player in the world or whatever you want to call it.  But I didn't know that I would be able to get here this quickly.”

That was then. Now, McIlroy’s playing to show support for a new sponsor, Cognizant, and he said as much. 

When asked how he looks at the rest of his career, how many years he will play aggressively, he said perhaps 10 out of the 17 he has left.  But one thing might make him stop sooner.  

“… a green jacket and just walk away,” he quipped.

The problem with making statements like that is he’ll be asked about it forever, like the time Fred Couples said if he won the Masters again, he would just quit playing golf. Well, he won the Masters in 1992, and he’s been sort of chasing that second green jacket since.  He’s now 64, 65 next October, and whether this is his last Masters or not, only Couples knows for sure. 

Next. Cognizant Classic Power Rankings. Cognizant Classic Power Rankings. light

If Couples won, somehow, he would be the most unlikely winner in Masters history. But McIlroy, at 34, is far too young to give up the chase. This is the week that he revs up the motor and starts his engine on the way to majors for 2024.