Can Rory McIlroy Handle the Pressure and Stay Ahead of Tiger Woods?

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IIJanuary 4, 2013

Can Rory McIlroy handle the pressure and stay ahead of Tiger Woods?
Can Rory McIlroy handle the pressure and stay ahead of Tiger Woods?Hong Wu/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy has a lot of pressure building prior to the start of his 2013 season. Will we see that pressure begin to boil over through the year?

He has been the No. 1-ranked player in the world for 29 weeks and is enjoying a relationship with the beautiful and talented tennis professional, Caroline Wozniacki.

In addition to the distractions, the McIlroy camp decided to change equipment and will sport Nike gear in 2013.

The Northern Irishman has used Titleist clubs and balls since turning professional. With the controversy that has swirled around Tiger Woods since 2009, Nike has been looking to add some new personalities to its brand.

There will be an official announcement of the change at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in two weeks. Both McIlroy and Woods will make their 2013 season debuts in Abu Dhabi.

Woods has been the poster boy for Nike since he turned professional in 1996. He was ranked No. 1 on the Official World Golf Rankings for 623 weeks. With McIlroy now ranked No. 1 and Woods’s recent resurgence from swing changes and injuries, Nike Golf could have the No. 1 and No. 2 players under contract in the very near future.

This type of contract brings with it even more pressure to perform. When a player accepts millions of dollars from a sponsor, he wants to garner wins and top-10 finishes for his benefactor.

McIlroy has already been making media headlines due to his very public romance with Wozniacki.

When he won at the Honda Classic and ascended to the No. 1 world ranking last March, he seemed to relax and struggled for over two months in 2012.

He missed cuts at the Players, the Memorial and the U.S. Open before a T-5 in the WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone in August got him back on track.

McIlroy finished the year with a win in the PGA Championship and two wins in the FedEx Cup. This earned him the PGA Tour money title. He also added the European Tour money title later in the year.

When Rory concentrates, he is the best player in the world right now. The question is: Does a 23-year-old who has reached golf’s pinnacle have the desire and dedication necessary to stay there?  

Most world class athletes exhibit a good measure of greed and superior ego. McIlroy does not seem to have an overactive ego and appears to be genuine and sincere in his interviews.

Woods has dealt with media and fan expectations his whole life. McIlroy is just learning to handle fan expectations to remain No. 1 and appease a rabid media that is constantly looking for the next big story.

Throw in a high profile romance and the need to appease a new sponsor while learning to perform with new clubs and balls, and a formula for disaster is rapidly created.

This could be a very interesting year for McIlroy.