Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are making their 2013 debuts this week in Abu Dhabi
Tiger Woods has been the number one attraction in golf for a long time. He was trained from the crib to be a predator. Earl taught Tiger to always be the alpha male. He kept his adversaries at arms length and on the defensive.
In the past, when he got near the lead at any golf tournament—especially a major event—opponents would cringe and fall away like autumn leaves blown from a tree.
If Woods could get a whiff of the lead, he would stride down the fairway with a purpose and confidence unknown to mere mortal golfers.
Woods has never developed friendships with his peers. Phil Mickelson and Woods have not shared too many beers at the 19th hole. Even when David Duval was winning and No. 1 in the world, Woods and Duval didn’t become bosom buddies, even though they both sported the Nike Swoosh.
Woods helped to build the Nike brand in golf. Nike had shoes and shirts when he signed on in 1996. He helped refine the clubs and balls that are sold in pro shops around the world today. He has been Nike Golf.
Being No. 1 in endorsement dollars is just another competition, another way to keep score. Woods was trained to be the leader. At his peak, he was earning $100 million annually in endorsement dollars with the bulk coming from Nike.
Then, along comes a 23-year-old, bushy-haired kid from Ireland with a golf swing to die for. He started winning majors and garnering the attention of golf fans around the world.
One year ago in Abu Dhabi, Woods and Rory McIlroy had the opportunity to play three rounds together and both battled for the lead. Robert Rock eventually won the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with McIlroy finishing second and Tiger falling to third.
Not too long after that, McIlroy announced that he would play more on the PGA Tour. At the end 2012, it was announced that he would be leaving Titleist to join Nike.
Did Woods start the wooing process to get McIlroy to join the Nike family at Abu Dhabi last year?
Has Woods accepted the fact that he may not be the main attraction in the golf world much longer and is helping to secure Nike’s future in the golf business?
The stars seem to be aligning quite nicely for McIlroy. He and Woods even cut a new television ad for Nike:
Ultimately, Woods is still trying to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ career major titles record. McIlroy will have something to say about that prospect over the next five years.
Woods has moved to No. 2 in the world right behind McIIroy.
The Northern Irishman has won two majors over the last two years. Woods has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
Any sport can use a great rivalry to stimulate interest and grow the fanbase. McIlroy and Woods battling for trophies over the next several years could usher in a new golden age for golf.
The old saying is: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Woods is keeping his main competitor very, very close.