x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Big rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods prepares to tee it up

While Woods has been forthcoming in his praise of the Northern Irishman, that does not mean the 14-major winner is conceding anything, writes John McAuley.

Rory McIlroy and his two major titles have only partially eclipsed Tiger Woods, he of the 14 major titles.
Rory McIlroy and his two major titles have only partially eclipsed Tiger Woods, he of the 14 major titles.

If the past few weeks on the US PGA Tour hinted the game was witnessing a changing of the guard, Greg Norman tried not so much to confirm it, but beat it into the ground with his driver.

"What I'm seeing is that Tiger's really intimidated by Rory," the former world No 1 told FoxSports.com when asked to wade into the debate on Woods-McIlroy.

"When have you ever seen him intimidated by another player? Never," Norman went on to say.

"But I think he knows his time is up and that's normal; these things tend to go in 15-year cycles. Jack [Nicklaus] took it from Arnold [Palmer]. I took it from Jack, Tiger from me and now it looks like Rory's taking it from Tiger."

Norman's two major championships, 91 wins worldwide and 331 weeks at the pinnacle of his profession qualifies his opinion.

However, he may have spoken too soon.

Lately, Woods may have been unusually forthcoming in praise of his newest rival, but that does not necessarily represent a chink in the armour of the 14-time major winner.

On the contrary, McIlroy's recent renaissance - the Northern Irishman answered questions about his summer slump with a second major and back-to-back FedEx Cup play-off victories - seems to have sparked something in Woods.

The duo occupy the top two places in the race for US$10 million (Dh36.7m), which concludes Sunday, and have therefore been paired together for a large portion of the play-offs.

Woods, finally looking more content on the course, has posted the lower score in three of their four head-to-heads (twice at the Barclays and once at the BMW Championship). McIlroy, though, has taken home two titles.

Yet Woods finally seems to be piecing together a game capable of adding to his major haul.

Seven of his past eight rounds have been in the 60s, while weekend woes that surrendered opportunities at the US Open and British Open have been eradicated.

The swing, so long a "work in process", is much smoother than in recent memory, albeit still prone to the odd, mighty, malfunction. Putting, especially from 10 to 15 feet, also remains a source of concern.

But the presence of McIlroy alongside Woods has no doubt stoked his competitive fires. Rather than intimidate Tiger, the emergence of this young lion might just reinvigorate him, instead.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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