Tiger Woods doesn’t believe he has a rivalry with Rory McIlroy. He’s right. McIlroy has been pretty much untouchable by anyone when he’s found his “A game” this year.
Summarising his season on his website, Woods (?) wrote:
Rory McIlroy had a wonderful year, and my hat is off to him. He deserved Player of the Year. Whether we develop a rivalry remains to be seen. Let’s just let it play out and see where it takes us. We’ll look at the results the next five or 10 years and see if it becomes a rivalry or not.
We’ll have to win big events and play each other down the stretch. That hasn’t happened yet. We’ve only played each other at Honda down the stretch. We need a lot more of those type of battles, but in bigger events.
Saying he faced McIlroy down the stretch at the Honda Classic is a little bit of a stretch. Yes, Woods shot an impressive, eight under 62 on the final day but he was six holes ahead of McIlroy when he finished.
Nine shots behind McIlroy going out, he gave the Northern Ireland star plenty of food for thought by getting within a shot off him in the clubhouse with an eagle at the 18th.
McIlroy was able to play conservatively through the Bear Trap and use his short game to seal a two-stroke win, as he recalled afterwards:
I wasn’t really paying much attention until he made that eagle on 18. I heard the huge roar and it definitely wasn’t a birdie roar. That’s when I knew that he probably got to 10. You know, it was nice to have that two‑shot cushion going into the last five holes after holing that birdie putt [on 13].
Apart from that, Tiger is right about their rivalry. There isn’t one right now though it’s the most eagerly sought showdown in the game after the classic Tiger v Phil gunfight.
In the majors, neither mananged to contend in all four this year and only McIlroy could rack up in a win. As for the FedEx Cup, they went into the playoffs ranked first and second but it was McIlroy who won twice, not Woods.
Tiger has enough trouble with consistency to worry about a potential rivalry with McIlroy would certainly do well to look at his Sunday scoring average.
Where he was once the king of the jungle on Sunday, ranking either first or second for final round scoring from 2000 to 2002 and first from 2005 to 2007, he was 32nd this season with an average closing round of 70.4 compared to 69.83 for 16th ranked McIlroy.
That said, McIlroy has won just three of their 11 head-to-head strokeplay rounds (see this Golf.com gallery), though that figure is deceptive given they were mainly paired together in either the opening rounds or in exhibitions. In other words, they were generally playing the course not the man or simply topping up their current accounts.
Seeing them go down the stretch with the Masters on the line next April would be a TV executive’s dream but given the precedents, we shouldn’t hold our breath.