Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods begin golf's "next great rivalry" at Augusta in April.
Thirty years after Tom Watson chipped in from an impossible lie greenside at Pebble Beach's 17th to beat Jack Nicklaus in the U.S. Open, golf fans are still waiting for the next great rivalry. An entire generation of golfers has never seen the excitement of two or three players completely dominating the major championship scene.
Watson and Nicklaus represent the last great rivalry for major championship dominance. In the last three decades we have seen some multiple major winners, a slew of one-and-done winners and the dominant years of Tiger. However, there have been no two or three-man rivalries that take on a life of their own during major championship weeks.
Rory and Tiger will change that in 2013.
Just as Tiger hits his peak (again), Rory has shown that Tigeresque ability to annihilate a major championship field once he gets a lead. Make no mistake...Rory and Tiger are the greatest players in the game. They are the only players who have the ability to completely take control of a major championship. And with both of them playing the regular season only as a warm up for the majors, they will be in top shape when each of the majors comes along.
Odds are both of them will create amazing fireworks during those four weeks, and they are the only players out there that can keep up with each other when they are hitting on all cylinders. If Rory and Tiger come to even two of the four majors with their A-games in full bloom, we will once again see that down to the wire heavyweight fight that was common for much of the major championship history.
That dynamic disappeared after the great Watson/Nicklaus battles. There have been no titanic major championship rivals since. The closest professional golf has seen is the Woods/Mickelson rivalry that never really materialized. Mickelson lived in Woods' shadow, and is not leaving it.
There are many players on tour that have the ability to win a major championship, and it has been proven time and time again that anyone out there can win one with a great week, then fade away as quick as they arrived. However, there are few that have the staying power in majors which is why so few win more than one.
So anything can happen in a given week, but "anything" is what we have been programmed to accept as players, known and unknown, put together a great week, but not a real body of work. Very few contend in majors year in and year out, and Tiger and Rory are the only ones that have shown the metal to not only win more than once, but to rewrite the record books when they do while ensuring that nobody else in the field gets close.
This dynamic of being able to run away from the field in the world's toughest tournaments is what will bear out this rivalry, and keep it going for a few years.
There will be other contenders. Mickelson will pop his head up once in a while, Brandt Snedeker is looking like he could be in the mix for quite a while because of his magic putter, and a young gun or two will jump in every once in a while. It will, however, be Rory and Tiger in the spotlight every major.
And because they have the mutual respect and camaraderie of past rivalries, something very lacking in the Mickelson/Woods dynamic, the storyline will be one that resembles the giant battles of the past.
They will feed off each other like Palmer and Nicklaus did in that golden age of golf, and like Palmer and Nicklaus, the passing of the torch will be the biggest story in golf for the foreseeable future.
Everyone will want to see how long Tiger can hold on to the crown before stepping down in favor of the younger Rory, and only Tiger can decide when that will be. And Rory knows he will have to take it.
The Rory/Tiger chapter in golf history begins at hallowed Augusta in April. We can only hope it will be a long story. This type of rivalry in major championship golf has been a long time coming.