One of the most monumental television talk show appearances in golf history unfolds Monday evening at 11:35 p.m. ET, when both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Woods is in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus in the debate as to who the greatest golfer of all time is, but McIlroy's recent career trajectory suggests he may be in the discussion someday too.
Millions have witnessed the wonders Woods and McIlroy have accomplished. Woods has 14 major championships to his name as part of 79 total PGA Tour victories. However, McIlroy is the man of the moment, having won the past two majors to give him four at the age of 25—a feat only Nicklaus and Woods have matched since the Masters began.
FiveThirtyEight weighed in on McIlroy's pursuit of history as it relates to Woods and Nicklaus:
It takes an extraordinary, magnetic individual to command the attention Woods and McIlroy do in such a difficult sport. Their dynamic, albeit different, personalities should offer an intriguing contrast when Jimmy Fallon gets a chance to sit down with the pair for an extended chat.
As different as they may be in appearance, attitude and the current states of their golf games, golf's two biggest stars have sparked a friendship in recent years.
They've dueled in two exhibition matches the past two Octobers, with McIlroy getting the better of Woods on each occasion. The two often poke fun at each other and have an undeniable rapport.
They've even teamed up for an excellent Nike commercial:
In addition to the comedic moments these two are bound to produce, when the chatter switches to golf itself, two vastly different conversations should unfold.
The past three tournaments in which both appeared—The Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship—McIlroy has won, while Woods has finished 69th, withdrawn and missed the cut, respectively.
Those results couldn't be on much more opposite ends of the spectrum, and they are frankly quite shocking considering the nearly inimitable talent Woods possesses.
What has held Woods back on the course is his health. After grinding through pain and playing with various ailments for years, he is approaching age 39 in December, and it seems to be catching up to him now.
Woods withdrew from Ryder Cup consideration, posting a statement on his official website last week:
I've been told by my doctors and trainer that my back muscles need to be rehabilitated and healed. They've advised me not to play or practice now. I was fortunate that my recent back injury was not related to my surgery and was muscular only.
I have already spoken to Tom [Watson] about the Ryder Cup, and while I greatly appreciate his thinking about me for a possible captain's pick, I took myself out of consideration. The U.S. team and the Ryder Cup mean too much to me not to be able to give it my best. I'll be cheering for the U.S. team. I think we have an outstanding squad going into the matches.
I plan to return to competition at my World Challenge tournament at Isleworth in Orlando, Florida, Dec. 1-7. It's an event that's important to me and my foundation, and it will be exciting to be playing again.
Don't expect Woods to entertain any notions of declining, though. An athlete of his caliber, with his demonstrated determination to reach unfathomable heights as a golfer, ought not to be counted out. Fallon figures to inquire about just how Woods is feeling physically, what his goals are moving forward and what his expectations are.
Since McIlroy grew up idolizing Woods, as many did, there should be talk of how Woods has revolutionized the game from a fitness standpoint and pushed the boundaries of what was previously thought possible.
McIlroy may not be the burly, Sunday-red-wearing intimidating force Woods was in his prime, but his chiseled figure, unique move through the golf ball and raw ability, combined with tons of work, have allowed him to achieve so much at such a young age.
Winning early, often and by a wide margin are feelings Woods can relate to. Take his 1997 breakthrough Masters triumph by 12 strokes as one example.
After winning the PGA Championship at Valhalla, where Woods won the event in 2000, the green jacket is the only major prize missing from McIlroy's resume. Suffice it to say, that narrative of McIlroy trying to complete the career Grand Slam will add some spice to the 2015 Masters, and you can bet Fallon will ask about that.
It's hard to remember someone driving it as long and straight as McIlroy is right now. Even when Woods was in his heyday, the biggest club in his bag often led him far off the fairway, where his recovery skills and unbelievable putting kept him in contention.
McIlroy isn't quite the putter Woods is, but his game from tee to green has, during his best moments, been just as good as Woods' was when he was at the peak of his powers. The following anecdote from ESPN Stats & Info supports that:
The more golf can cross-promote and parlay Woods and McIlroy into situations like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the better it will be for the sport's publicity.
Talk of a new era has spawned in the wake of McIlroy's three wins in as many starts, but it will be interesting to see how Woods feels about it. Woods hasn't made any public comments about McIlroy's sensational form as of late, so while he is likely to praise his friend, knowing Woods, he will get a last word in, as if to say, "I'm not done yet."
The majority of golf fans have to be rooting for Woods to get healthy and stay fit when he returns to competition. A potential rivalry with McIlroy, to go with the emergence of young American stars such as Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, would create some captivating theatre for years to come.
Tuning in for Woods and McIlroy on Fallon's NBC show is a great decision even for casual observers whose interest was only recently piqued by McIlroy's numerous wins. Reliving Woods' glory days and how they impacted McIlroy will allow for reflecting and celebration, and the potential Woods comeback storyline offers optimism for the future.
Right now, though, golf is pretty darn exciting. That Woods and McIlroy are receiving this opportunity on Monday is a testament to that.
Here's to hoping Woods and McIlroy pair up for a Sunday final at a major soon enough.
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