World No. 1 Rory McIlroy shot a bogey-free 67 to edge out Tiger Woods by one stroke in the highly anticipated Duel at Jinsha Lake. The exhibition match saw the two best golfers on the planet wired for sound and gave an unprecedented look inside the ropes as the matchup intensity was constant throughout—but the two continued to show a rapport in playing together.
Both players entered Monday's showdown in fine form. Tiger had fired a final-round 63 to tie for fourth at the CIMB Classic, while McIlroy posted a runner-up finish in the European Tour's BMW Masters.
McIlroy led from the first hole after Tiger bogeyed to start, but there was plenty of tension down the stretch. Tiger missed birdie putts on 16 and 17 would have knotted the match, then airmailed his approach shot to the final green into the back bunker. McIlroy only had to salvage par to clinch the victory.
The match offered fans not only high-quality golf and entertainment, but also a more transparent view into the budding friendship of the game's most prominent players. The pay-per-view event played itself out overnight in the States, with only live streaming available otherwise.
Among the uncensored topics was Tiger discussing his struggles with current swing instructor Sean Foley. Golf Channel's Tiger Tracker was there to document what he'd said on Twitter:
Wow. Tiger: "Struggling with (coach) Sean (Foley). (I've been) hitting my short irons so f#!%! far."
— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) October 29, 2012
You can leave it up to your imagination to figure out what Tiger said there, but he is known to use colorful language on the course at times. Then again, who isn't? Golf is kind of a hard game, and these two play it at a level unfathomable to most.
This matchup proved that McIlroy is indeed the new ruler in the game of golf. Renowned sportscaster Jim Nantz dubbed him as such after McIlroy drained a birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Kiawah Island for a PGA Championship record eight-stroke triumph.
Ultimately, it was a fun day on the course, as McIlroy tweeted his appreciation for the event afterward:
Had a great time with @tigerwoods at Jinsha Lake in China today! We both played well and hopefully the fans enjoyed it too!— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) October 29, 2012
According to a report by Golf Channel's Ryan Lavner, Tiger was in good spirits after the match despite a relatively frustrating day, where the lead was for the taking in the final three holes:
We had a great match. It was a lot of fun, and I think everyone here enjoyed it. It’d be fun if we can do something like this again.
It certainly wouldn't hurt the popularity of golf for this marquee pairing to continue facing each other as much as possible. Both players have embraced the emerging rivalry.
While Tiger still has the game and talent to stay competitive with the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland, his comments about struggling with his swing coach are indicative that he's not fully "back" yet. What a ridiculously high standard, since Tiger still managed to win three times on the PGA Tour and be in contention at some point in the first three majors.
It is true that the shorter approach shots have let him down, as Tiger's numbers (via PGATOUR.com) from 75 to 150 yards out are far below his typical standards.
He must shore that up to challenge McIlroy in the future, because the young gun hasn't even entered the prime of his golfing career. That is still at least a few years away, presumably, and outings like this can only continue to build McIlroy's confidence against his childhood role model.