Rory McIlroy believes it would be "foolish" to write off world number seven Tiger Woods' chances of winning the 143rd Open when it starts next Thursday at Royal Liverpool.
The 38-year-old American will make his first major appearance of the season at Hoylake this coming week, after surgery on a pinched nerve in his lower back in early April ruled him out of both the Masters and last month's US Open at Pinehurst.
It was widely expected that he would miss the majority of the season. However, he surprisingly announced a fortnight ago that he was ready to return to competitive golf at the Quicken Loans National - an event that directly benefits his foundation - at Congressional Country Club.
Despite him missing the cut with rounds of 74 and 75, McIlroy is wary of the threat posed by his close friend Woods at the season's third major.
"We have all witnessed what Tiger has been able to do over his career, whether that's come back from injury and win, or come back from any sort of off-course stuff and win," he told reporters ahead of this week's Scottish Open.
"Is it foolish for people to write him off? I would say so. If he's playing and he's competing he's got as good a chance as any. I wouldn't write him off completely. I still think he can do things that we have never seen from any other golfer."
Is Woods ready?
With only 36 holes of competitive golf played for the 14-time major champion in the last four months, Sir Nick Faldo wondered whether Woods might tee it up at Royal Aberdeen to hone his links golf game in time for the Open.
He has chosen not to, however, which saw his former coach Hank Haney state that it showed he "did not care as much as he used to".
The 24-year-old McIlroy, though, who will be chasing his first Claret Jug next week to add to his 2012 US PGA victory that followed his major breakthrough a year previous at the US Open - which happened to be at Congressional, the scene of Woods' return in America - believes a fully-fit Tiger will never be too far away.
McIlroy wary of Woods
"I read some of the comments from a couple of weeks ago, he said that he felt great and hit some good drives. So if he feels 100 per cent healthy and doctors give him the go ahead, then why not?" McIlroy added.
Woods certainly knows his way around this year's Open course, having won there in 2006 despite not hitting one driver all week - and finishing a staggering 18-under par for a two-stroke victory over compatriot Chris DiMarco.
A lot has happened since. Woods has fallen out of the world's top 50, embarked on a six-year major-trophy drought before returning to world number one last year following five victories.
His injury has seen him fall to seventh in the Official World Golf Rankings, but if he has shown anything consistently throughout his sparkling career, it is to expect the unexpected.
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