With all due respect to the Ryder Cup that will be played this week at Medinah Golf Club near Chicago, the most talked about subject in the game is the evolving rivalry between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Great for the game? Absolutely.
Great for Woods, who continues to rebuild his game and his life? Absolutely.
Here are five reasons why.
Rory's a Real Threat
Tiger is ready to fight for his place in golf’s pecking order. Woods was pushed somewhat during his time at No. 1 by players like Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, but the bottom line is Woods was at the top of the World Golf Rankings from August 1999 to September 2004 (264 weeks) and June 2005 to October 2010 (281 weeks).
He's Golf's Next Big Thing
It has become crystal clear to Tiger the 23-year-old is golf’s next big thing. Tiger has met the future, and it has curly brown hair and an Irish brogue.
The idea that Tiger doesn’t care is wrong. He knows, as Yogi Berra used to say, that McIlroy’s future is ahead of him. Tiger also knows his dominant golf is behind him.
Real Rivals Play at Their Best
Tiger is confident his game is very close to be where he’d like it to be and when he looks up to the top of the World Golf Rankings, he sees Rory whose game is definitely on the rise. Can there be a better rivalry than one in which both players are either playing, or close to playing golf at a very high level?
McIlroy's Got the Upper Hand
Tiger is as driven and focused as anybody who has ever played the game. He doesn’t like losing and he has been beaten in three of his last four starts by Rory—who also occupies the throne that Tiger sat in for so long.
The young Irishman turned pro in 2007 and when the two have played in the same event, he has a 23-17-3 record against Woods, including a 14-5-2 mark the last two seasons. (It should be noted that the last two seasons have not been stellar ones for Woods overall).
McIlroy has won five times in those meetings. Woods? Only three.
Happiness All Around
Do you see the way Tiger has been smiling over the last several weeks, especially when he and McIlroy have been paired together? It could very well be he enjoys the youngster’s company.
But could it also be that Woods has come to realize it’s possible to have something of friendly relationship with your biggest rival? (Think back to his relationships with Mickelson, Singh, Ernie Els or Sergio Garcia).