Is Rory better than Phil?
 Abu Dhabi runner-up finishers Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson chat at the prize-giving ceremony. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Abu Dhabi runner-up finishers Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson chat at the prize-giving ceremony. Picture: Eoin Clarke

Rory McIlroy ultimately paid the price for Saturday's careless drop and that two-shot penalty when he finished tied for second with Phil Mickelson in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

He ended up a shot behind winner Pablo Larrazábal at The National Course, carding a four under 68 to Mickelson's 69 as the Barcelona man shot a 67 to win on 14 under par.

It was McIlroy's third runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi and the 14th of a professional career that now spans 164 official events.

His next outing comes in the Dubai Desert Classic in a fortnight, when he will get the chance to square up against world No 1 Tiger Woods in what is sure to be billed as a battle of the titans.

There is no doubt that McIlroy is the man on the rise in the game as Woods' powers wane and he battles to end that five-year drought in the majors.

But a quick crunch of the numbers between McIlroy, Woods and Mickelson shows that whole the Holywood star is light years behind the current world No 1 at the same stage of his career when it comes to wins, especially in the majors, he's got a better record than Mickelson.


How Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson stacked up after their first 164 officials starts

164 pro startsWinsSecondsThirds4th - 10thMissed cuts
Tiger44 (26.82%)
8/24 majors (33.33%)
1/24 in majors
2/24 majors
5/24 majors
1 (0.60%)
0/24 majors (0%)
Rory10 (6.09%)
2/20 majors (10%)
0/20 in majors
3/20 majors
8/20 majors
27 (16.46%)
4/20 majors (20%)
Phil12 (7.31%)
0/22 majors (0%)
0/22 in majors
2/22 in majors
6/22 in majors
37 (22.56%)
4/22 majors (18.18%)

While McIlroy has won 10 of his first 164 events (6.09%) and two of his first 20 majors (10%), Woods won 44 of his first 164 tournaments (26.82%) and no fewer than eight of 24 majors for an uncanny strike rate of 33.33%.

Woods and McIlroy had a similar number runner-up, third and 4th-to-10th place finishes during those first 164 events. But while the current world No 1 missed just one cut in that time (and none in the majors), McIlroy has missed 16.46% of his weekends approximately and had the last two rounds off in 20% of his majors.

It's almost unfair to compare anyone to Woods but if we assume that McIlroy will keep up this pace for the next few years, he could amass 10 majors and more than 50 wins by the time he is 38.

Mickelson won a PGA Tour event as an amateur but he did not turn professional until he was 22 and while he's a prolific winner with 52 PGA Tour wins alone, it took him 43 tries as a professional to get the first of his five major wins.

McIlroy triumphed in just his 10th major as a professional but has been just marginally more consistent than Mickelson in terms of missing cuts.

It's little wonder that Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley said at last year's Irish Open that the Holywood star might be better off comparing himself to Mickelson than Woods rather than beating himself up looking for metronomic consistency.

Harrington still believes he is a genuine contender to match Jack Nicklaus' major record of 18, especially if he wins another major (or two) over the next few seasons.

As he told Iain Carter on BBC Five Live in Durban recently:

"Time is on his side. He started winning majors at 22, so that gives him a good bit of time. Rory has won two in the last three years. That's a good stat. If he wins more in the next three years, then that really becomes some stat."

Naturally, the Ulsterman was disappointed to come up short in Abu Dhabi. But given the state of his game, there is no reason to believe he can't challenge for at least one major win this season.

"I’m standing here and I feel I should be 15 under par for the tournament and the winner, not 13 under par and the runner-up, but that’s the way it goes I suppose,” he said, clearly still bristling over the two-stroke penalty he received for failing to take full relief from a spectator walkway on Saturday. 

"I played the least shots of anyone here this week so I suppose I can count that as a moral victory. But I’ve very happy with the week as a whole. I came in here telling everyone I was happy with my game and I think I’ve proved that by doing a lot of good work. So it’s fair to say I’m really excited about the rest of the season now.”

 AP shot via  of a gracious Rory McIlroy congratulating Abu Dhabi winner Pablo Larrazabal as Phil Mickelson looks on.

AP shot via of a gracious Rory McIlroy congratulating Abu Dhabi winner Pablo Larrazabal as Phil Mickelson looks on.

McIlroy did also make the point that he didn't want to "take anything away" from Larrazábal's victory.

The Spaniard started the final round three shots behind leader Craig Lee, but as the Scot faded, he seized the initiative. Reaching the turn in 32, further birdies at the 11th and 13th saw him hit the front and when he two putted the final hole for his sixth birdie of the round, it set a target neither of his two illustrious pursuers could match. 

Mickelson, the reigning Open Champion, battled hard and produced his usual brand of golfing fireworks as he strove to close the gap. But the 43 year old Californian’s challenge was undone at the 13th where a double hit, while attempting to extricate himself right handed from a bush, saw him run up a triple bogey seven.
“It never crossed my mind that I would double hit it,” said the American, who gamely fought to make up the lost ground with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 18th holes. “But I enjoy challenging myself to hit some shots. Sometimes they come off, and sometimes they don’t. This week I had a little bit of both.”

Asked when asked he had last double-hit a shot, Mickelson said: "I can't remember, but I know I have, because I have done a lot of crazy @#$%."

Summing up what it's like to be Phil when congratulated by an American scribe on another "quintessential show", the left hander came up with a quote that might help McIlroy deal with the slings and arrows of the pro game as he goes forward.

He said: "We're all along for the ride. We're up, we're down, we see where it goes."