BY RANDY YOUNGMAN
THOUSAND OAKS – Ready for the Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy rivalry to heat up? Or is it too late?
In the minds of many golf observers, McIlroy, 23, and Woods, 37 in December, are meteors passing in opposite directions – one ascending and one descending.
The widespread perception is that Rory is the rising young star, No. 1 in the world and on his way to sustained greatness, and that Tiger’s best years are behind him.
Though Woods ended a 30-month tour victory drought in 2012 and won three events to pass Jack Nicklaus on the all-time PGA Tour victory list and move up to No. 3 in the world rankings, he was still overshadowed by McIlroy’s accomplishments.
That’s because McIlroy won five tournaments against star-studded fields around the world en route to winning the PGA Tour and European Tour money titles and Player of the Year honors on both tours. He also finished second in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
While Tiger won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial and the AT&T Invitational, Rory won the Honda Classic, the PGA Championship, two FedEx Cup playoff events (Deutsche Bank and BMW titles in back-to-back weeks) and then the World Tour Championship in Dubai, the European Tour’s season-ending Race to Dubai event.
Though he had the Race to Dubai wrapped up before he teed off, McIlroy punctuated his season with an exclamation mark by making birdies on the final five holes to win by three shots. His total earnings of $10,947,717 were sixth-most in history. (Tiger has four of the top five money totals.)
Suffice it to say that Woods noticed and was impressed, but he obviously is not ready to concede anything to anybody – even McIlroy – especially after returning to health and to form and to his winning ways in 2012.
Before his charity tournament at Sherwood Country Club in the last week of November, Tiger was asked if he was still motivated to prove what he could do and, course, to beat McIlroy.
“There were quite a few people out there that said I would never win again,” Woods said pointedly. (OK, guilty as charged.)
“Well, starting at this event (last December), I won four times, so that’s not too bad. Three wins on the PGA Tour this year, and what I’ve done, collectively passing Jack (with 74 tour victories), I think that’s a a pretty good accomplishment.”
No argument here, Tiger, but it still didn’t compare to what McIlroy accomplished in 2012.
“I still feel I have some of my best golf to play, and in order to do that, I had to be healthy, and this year is headed in the right direction,” Woods said. “I’m very excited about next year, too.”
“Rory is ranked No. 1. He deserves it,” Tiger said. “He’s won tournaments all around the world. He’s had high finishes on top of that (eight top fives in 2012), and that’s how you do it. He’s won a major championship, won a couple of playoff events and won the Race to Dubai event. He should be very proud of the season he’s had, and I’m sure he’s excited about what next year holds for him, as well, coming off a year like this.”
And so is Tiger, who boasts 74 PGA Tour victories, including 14 majors, and 100 victories around the world. Career earnings: More than $100 million.
For the record, Rory has won six PGA Tour events, including two majors, and 10 victories around the world. Career earnings: More than $16 million.
Gentlemen, rev up your rivalry. Golf fans demand it.
Randy Youngman has been writing about golf in California, at the professional and amateur levels, for more than 20 years. He is also an admitted golfaholic.