Rory McIlroy has earned being the best in the world.
For those golf fans who have clamored for more of Tiger Woods vs. Rory McIlroy, Monday will be your last chance to witness that matchup in 2012.
And the only way you’ll be able to see it is if you’ll be on the grounds at Zhengzhou, China for the one-round Duel at Jinsha Lake. That’s where the world’s top two players will play an exhibition match that means nothing other than a tiny bit of personal satisfaction for the winner.
Both players come to the matchup off good (but not winning) performances this past week. Woods finished fourth in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, while McIlroy came up a shot short against Peter Hanson in the BMW Masters in Shanghai, China.
While Woods has just one event left on his 2012 schedule (his own World Challenge, Nov. 28-Dec. 2), McIlroy is scheduled to play in four more European Tour events as he attempts to win both the European Tour Order of Merit and the PGA Tour’s money list.
He’s got the PGA Tour nailed and—assuming he contends in a couple of those—has enough of a bulge over Peter Hanson and Justin Rose to pull off the double.
"It would be good to knock that off and try and do what Luke (Donald) did last year and win the money on both tours," McIlroy said prior to the BMW Masters (via Fox Sports).
While much has been made of Woods’ 2012 season, there can be no denying the quality or the importance of the season McIlroy has had to this point. He won four times and finished second four more times. He won the PGA Championship and has been golf’s best player. Period.
Looking for more ways to quantify McIlroy’s season? His runner-up finishes came at the World Golf Championships—Accenture Match Play, Abu Dhabi, Wells Fargo and the BMW Masters. All high-end, high-profile events with strong fields.
What he’s done this season should look fairly familiar to golf fans everywhere, especially if they were paying attention when Woods was the dominant player in the game. He is a man among boys when he’s got it going, and it’s been that way since early August.
Obviously, being the best player in the world means you’re going to win a lot. But it also means that you’re going to be in contention a lot, as McIlroy has done repeatedly.
His worst finish since August 5, spanning seven individual tournaments on the PGA and European Tour, is a puzzling tie for 24th in the Barclays, the first of the FedEx Cup playoff events. Otherwise, he has been dynamite.
He’s not going win each time he tees it up, but he does give fans what Woods did back in his heyday: the knowledge that unless there was a physical problem of some sort, the No. 1 player in the world was going to be in the hunt.
That’s what he did this past week. He began the final round a shot behind Peter Hanson, but fell four shots back after five holes. The young Northern Irishman rebounded with four birdies in eight holes and then posted an eagle on the 15th. He drained a 25-foot putt for birdie on 16 to get within two but missed a birdie putt on 18 that would have tied Hanson.
“I didn't get the best of starts but it started coming together over the back nine,” McIlroy said (via the Golf Channel). “I'm happy with how I played, but a little disappointed. I missed a few opportunities on the front nine and it was too little, too late. But he played well and deserved his win. To go out there with the lead and play the way he did and shoot 67, is very impressive, so he was always going to be tough to beat.”
But now it’s on to the exhibition match that’s billed as a fun afternoon with the game’s best players but one that will get both players’ juices flowing a bit. As the field in Malaysia dealt with the oppressive heat and humidity, Woods said it won’t be easy for either of them.
“Rory is going to be dealing with something similar. He's trying to win a championship today, and we'll both probably be a little bit tired," Woods said. "But we're going to try and put on a good show, shoot a low round and have a little bit of fun."
Woods, by the way, put up 28 birdies in the CIMB Classic, the most birdies he has ever recorded in a single event on the PGA Tour. He also had 28 birdies in the 2006 Buick Open and the 2007 TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.