Analyzing the Evolution of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods' Rivalry

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

DORAL, FL - MARCH 10:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland watches his driveon the fifth hole during the final round of the WGC - Cadillac Championship at the Trump Doral Golf Resort & Spa on March 10, 2013 in Doral, Florida.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Warren Little/Getty Images

Each year, the rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods edges closer to becoming one of the classics in golf history.

At least that's what golf fans hope.

It appears that Woods is getting closer and closer to top form. While he has had a drought in golf's major tournaments since winning the 2008 U.S. Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate, he won three tournaments in 2012 and he has already won twice on the tour this year.

McIlroy became golf's top player while Woods rehabbed from a series of injuries and dealt with his embarrassing litany of personal problems.

McIlroy was a young golf phenom from Northern Ireland with incredible potential. He started turning that potential into productivity in 2010 when he won his first American title—the Wells Fargo Championship—and finished a solid third in the PGA Championship as a 21-year-old.

McIlroy became a superstar in 2011, dominating the U.S. Open and winning his first major title. Prior to winning the U.S. Open, McIlroy had led the Masters through the first three rounds before he felt the weight of what he was doing and shot an 80 in the final round.

Another golfer might have been doomed by that disastrous finish. McIlroy was not. He was awful on that final day, shook it off and moved on to his next tournament.

There was no psychological scarring.

Then he became the best player in the world last year. In addition to winning the PGA Championship—his second major—he also won three other tournaments.

When the European team needed him to be at his best on the final day of the Ryder Cup against Keegan Bradley, he was the coolest competitor they had—even though he nearly missed his tee time (source:

Woods was resurgent in 2012, but his major performance was disappointing. Not only couldn't he win his 15th major, his game fell apart in the final two rounds when it looked like might have a chance to contend.

But Woods has rebuilt his game. In winning at Torrey Pines and the Cadillac Championship this year, Woods has played and acted as if he is the best golfer in the world once again.

However, he knows that McIlroy is a worthy adversary. He seems to have more respect for McIlroy than he ever had for Phil Mickelson. Woods and McIlroy are friendly with each other when they play together.

Try to remember the last time you saw Woods and Mickelson enjoying a laugh together.

Woods and McIlroy appear prepared to take their rivarly to a new level this year. Woods appears to be at or near the top of his game. McIlroy is off to a tough start in 2013, but he shot a 65 in the final round of the Cadillac Championship.

If McIlroy has gotten his game together, the golf world may be treated to a rivalry that could come close to matching what the previous greats of the game have given their fans.

Rivalries like Sam Snead/Ben Hogan. Arnold Palmer/Jack Nicklaus.

McIlroy and Woods not only have the talent, they have the cache to join those greats.

If McIlroy and Woods can both peak at the same time in the majors, it will be a major shot in the arm for golf and 2013 will become a year for golf fans to remember.