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Whether Rory McIlroy at his best would be a true rival to Tiger Woods at his best is a thought experiment at present.
McIlroy played significantly better golf in 2012 than Woods, according to all important barometers. The Ulsterman presently sits atop the Official World Golf Rankings, which isn’t something Tiger likely cares much about. However, it is indicative of the fact that, for the first time in his career, there is another player on tour playing significantly better golf than Tiger Woods.
This wasn’t the case with David Duval, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els or Phil Mickelson, none of whom share the upside of McIlory or his early success—six wins, two of which were majors, in four years on tour.
Duval, Els, Singh and Westwood all knocked Woods off his perch atop the OWGR for a period of time during his streak of dominance on Tour (ending in 2010), but none have seemed legitimate threats to Woods over the long run.
Put another way, no one was asking whether any of the aforementioned golfers were going to become the next Tiger Woods. With McIlroy, the question has followed the golfer since he joined the tour (and through his prodigious amateur career, as well).
In 2013, it’s important for Woods to prove that he can rise to the occasion and fend off a persistent challenger. True, there will come a time in Woods' career when he is no longer capable of being the most dominant player in the game. A younger, more capable golfer will win majors at the rate only Woods seemed capable of and will set up camp at the top of the OWGR. Whether that time is now and that player is Rory McIlory is something Woods must answer this year.