RORY McILROY believes former world No 1 Tiger Woods faces a "long road" to recovery after undergoing a third back operation in 19 months.
Woods, who turns 40 on December 30, is on bed rest after what was described as a "follow-up procedure" to his second microdiscectomy in the middle of September.
The 14-time major winner first went under the knife on March 31, 2014, forcing him to miss the Masters for the first time in his career. No timetable has been set for his return to action, but he had already been ruled out until 2016.
"I think any time you touch your back, it's tough," McIlroy said after his third round in the Turkish Airlines Open on Saturday.
"He obviously needed it. But it looks like it's a long road to recovery for him.
"I just hope he gets better - not just to play golf, but just for everyday life, being able to do everyday things.
"I guess that's his third back surgery in a year and a half. Like someone once said, the best way to avoid your fifth back surgery is to avoid the first one.
"He has that mindset that he can overcome things and he's overcome things before. So I wouldn't put it past him. But as I said, I think it's a long road ahead."
Woods was ranked world No 1 for a record 683 weeks, but is currently 351st.
"He's missed by the game of golf in general," McIlroy added. "Not sure the players miss being beaten by him every week...
"But the game of golf, we were so lucky and so privileged to have him spearheading our sport for so long and to have a global icon like that. The game of golf, I'm not saying it needs him but he definitely came along at the right time and did a lot for the game."