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Is Woods-McIlroy face-off a rare rivalry?

(China Daily)

10:26, November 01, 2012

World No 1 Rory McIlroy (right) of Northern Ireland chats with Tiger Woods of the US before the awards ceremony at the Duel at Jinsha Lake, a one-day golf challenge in Zhengzhou, Henan province, on Monday. Will the two be able to create a rare rivalry in the sport? (China Daily/agencies)

A key ingredient is still missing from golf's recipe for success

It's the one thing asked of golf that it hasn't quite been able to deliver in modern times.

The game's brought us luminous stars like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and, of course, Tigers Woods, and its ever-increasing popularity has seen it explode on TV screens all across the world.

It's introduction to the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 will only see that popularity further heighten - particularly in the sport's sleeping giant of a nation, China.

However, despite its remarkable growth and popularity, golf has failed to give fans a rivalry they can truly sink their teeth into.

Boxing had Ali and Frazier, basketball Magic and Bird, tennis McEnroe and Borg all rivalries that compelled us to tune in whether we had a horse in the race or not.

Golf? Nada.

Still, that has not been for a lack of effort on the part of the game's governing bodies and associated hype machines, and Tiger is always 50 percent of the equation.

El Tigre and Phil "Lefty" Mickelson were supposed to be the preeminent duo that would go head-to-head for major titles for years and years, but they have never seemed to be able to peak at the same time and have finished one-two at majors only once, the 2002 US Open - won by Tiger by three shots.

Now, precocious young Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, the winner of two majors at the age of 23, has been figuratively tossed into the ring with Tiger.

They had a little one-on-one sparring session at the Duel at Jinsha Lake in Zhengzhou, Henan province, on Monday and one of the first questions asked after McIlroy's one-stroke win was if it was the genesis of a long-term rivalry.

Woods, the senior partner at 36 and with 14 majors to his name, shot it down pretty quickly.

"I think it would mean we are both playing well (if that were to happen). But it's not like other sports where you have the top guys playing against each other all the time. Jack and Arnold didn't go at it all that often," he said busting a golfing myth.

Indeed, Nicklaus (18) and Palmer (seven) boast 25 majors between them, but in their decades-long careers they only finished one-two at majors four times. Arnie beat amateur Nicklaus at the 1960 Masters. The Golden Bear turned the tables during a classic US Open playoff in 1962, which was the genesis of the mythical rivalry, and relegated his old foe to second at the 1965 Masters by a whopping nine strokes and by four at the '67 US Open.

"Myself, in my generation, I haven't gone at it with Phil (Mickelson) all that much. I've probably battled more against Ernie (Els) and Vijay (Singh) because we play globally - all around the world. But that's still maybe only a couple of times a year," he said.

"It's the nature of our sport, it's so hard to get there (the top) and we are playing at so many different events. But, if Rory and I can do this for the next 10 to 15 years that would be great, but that's also a very long time."

While, Woods seemed skeptical about any two players running away with the game, McIlroy seemed chuffed about his mano-a-mano battle with his boyhood idol.

"I was 6 and was watching him play in the US Amateur final," he said of the first time he saw Woods in action. "He turned pro soon after that and I think Milwaukee (Open) was his first event as a pro and I also saw him win his first Masters.

"Seventeen years ago, I was sitting in my house with my mom and dad watching this guy next to me win the US Amateur."

"That guy" is pretty tired of rivalry talk. His only bte noire is the history book and Jack's 18 major championships ... that's what makes Tiger roar.

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