Ryder Cup 2012: Rory McIlroy is reaching heights of Tiger Woods

The European Ryder Cup captain, José María Olazábal, has claimed Rory McIlroy's current form is approaching that of Tiger Woods in his prime.

McIlroy, the world's top-ranked player, will be a crucial figure for Olazábal in Chicago this weekend despite his relative youth. The Spaniard has compared the 23-year-old's recent run – he won his second major at the USPGA Championship last month – to that of Woods a decade ago.

"Obviously we have the world No1, he's playing great," Olazábal said. "Even though he didn't win the FedEx Cup, the way he has played the last few months has been outstanding.

"I would say that he is at this moment very close to how good Tiger was at that stretch of time between 1999 and 2002, the way he's playing. He is full of confidence. He's got the whole game and in that regard it's great to have players like that on your team."

In the span Olazábal quoted, Woods claimed seven of his 14 major titles. Last week a member of the United States team, Jim Furyk, said that McIlroy would be a "marked man" in a sporting sense in Chicago because of his current prominence.

A glimpse of Europe's likely line-up on the Ryder Cup's first round of matches on Friday appeared at Tuesday's practice session. Ian Poulter and Justin Rose unsurprisingly played as partners, as did Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

In the second grouping the Northern Irish pair of McIlroy and Graeme McDowell were together, as were Sergio García and Paul Lawrie.

Although Olazábal was understandably not willing to discuss his plans, McDowell was more forthcoming. "The established partnerships are fairly obvious," McDowell said. "Myself and Rory, Poulter and Rose, Donald and Garcia, perhaps Donald and Lawrie. You can pretty much predict our first eight players on Friday morning. You don't need me to tell you that."

Olazábal observed the lack of rough around Medinah, as had been dictated by the American captain, Davis Love III, but denied this would hand the hosts a strong advantage.

"The golf course is the same for everyone," Olazábal added. "You have 24 of the best players in the world and they can adjust to any situation.

"It doesn't surprise me the way the golf course is set up in the sense that at Valhalla in 2008, for instance, it was similar. I don't know if it favours any team in particular. But I think players will be more aggressive on the golf course.

"You're going to see holes tied with birdies. You'll have a few holes where anything can happen, like 15, 16, 17; risk-and-reward holes. I think it's exciting. I think the way the golf course is set up is great."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewan Murray at Medinah, for The Guardian on Tuesday 25th September 2012 23.56 Europe/London

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