ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 26: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Tiger Woods of the USA during the first round of Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on January 26, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy -- golf's next great rivalry? Too soon to tell but upcoming events may provide hints of things to come.
Remember the made-for-TV pseudo rivalry between Tiger Woods and David Duval? Despite the prime-time setting of the Shootout at Sherwood, the much-hyped battles between the two flickered out like the floodlights at the end of Woods’ 2-and-1 victory at Sherwood Country Club in 1999.
A week later, Woods won the PGA Championship to swipe golf’s No. 1 ranking from Duval and held onto it for the next five years.
There have been a slew of pretenders to the throne since Woods made quick work of Duval. Ernie Els. Padraig Harrington. Vijay Singh. Sergio Garcia.
And, of course, Phil Mickelson. Lefty, six years Woods’ senior, has had his moments -- the most recent being the pasting he put on Tiger at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February when he bested his final-round opponent by 11 shots. When it comes to major titles, however, Woods (14) leaves Phil (with four) in the dust.
Into the void has stepped Rory McIlroy, the 23-year-old whippersnapper from Northern Ireland, whom some of his mates have tabbed “the next Tiger Woods.” The two-time major champ, whose resume is a mere shadow of Woods’, may end up proving as unworthy as the previous contenders, or he and Woods could morph into what golf’s overlords have wanted for so long -- the links version of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, Red Sox and Yankees.
The golf world will get a glimpse of the potential rivalry next week at The Barclays, when the world’s No. 1 and No. 3 play together to kick off the FedEx Cup playoffs. While duking it out on Thursday and Friday in a money-grab competition is hardly going at it for all the glory on Major Sunday, the pairing could offer hints of things to come. For sure, it will be entertaining.
It may also turn into an unfair fight between an aging superstar with credentials unlikely to be matched in our lifetime and the young gun with the chutzpah to spit in the eye of the Tiger by donning his signature blood-red threads before going out and whipping the field on the Ocean Course.
While Woods has three PGA Tour wins to McIlroy’s two this season, the latter has the edge in games they’ve both started. In the 11 tour events in which both he and Woods have played in 2012, the golfing half of Wozzilroy has come out on top six times and lifted the trophy twice. The most recent tourney was last week’s PGA Championship, which McIlroy won by a Tiger-esque eight shots and in which he finished 11 strokes ahead of the 74-time tour winner.
Now, in a duel reminiscent of the Sherwood exhibition, Woods and McIlroy have agreed to go head-to-head in an 18-hole match at China’s Lake Jinsha International Golf Club on October 29. It will be a convenient venue, since each will compete in different Asian tournaments the previous weekend.
“It should be a lot of fun,” McIlroy said on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” Wednesday. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this with Tiger.”