Why Golf Needs a Rory McIlroy vs. Tiger Woods Rivalry

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2013

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 18:  Tiger Woods of the USA and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland on the 14th green during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 18, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Golf needs a special rivalry for the sport to reach its greatest heights.

There's nothing wrong with the game of golf if Arnie isn't battling Jack or Sam Snead isn't taking on Ben Hogan. But when the game's top two golfers can look across from each other in the final grouping of a major with that tournament's title on the line, that's the best that golf has to offer.

Phil Mickelson is coming off a sensational performance in winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

He had his cap set on challenging Tiger Woods for the top spot in golf for a long time. He registered a few victories over the years, but Woods was the undisputed champion in most of their confrontations.

Mickelson is no longer in the picture.

In the battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, it's now Rory McIlroy vs. Tiger Woods.

McIlroy rose to the title and earned the top ranking with his performance in 2011 and 2012. It appeared that McIlroy would have to battle someone like Luke Donald for the crown, because Woods did not appear to have much left going into the 2012 season.

Woods turned things around in 2012. He got up off the deck after personal difficulties and physical problems had pummeled his game. Woods won three tournaments and became the No. 2 money earner on the PGA tour last year behind McIlroy.

Woods did not come all the way back. He struggled badly in the majors, particularly in the Saturday and Sunday rounds.

The "old" Tiger was at his best when the money was on the table. In 2012, Woods seemed to tighten up on moving day and was not a factor on championship Sunday.

So there is work for him to do.

The first blush of the 2013 golf season gives Woods and his fans reason to believe that he is going to continue to take steps to climb up the ladder. He put on a masterful performance in winning his first PGA tournament of the year, the Farmers Insurance Open.

There's a lot more for him to do, but he can only take it one step at a time.

If he can join McIlroy in the battle, it will be good for the game.

Both men are demanding competitors. They know how to comport themselves and act like gentlemen when they are competing in exhibition tournaments overseas at the end of the golf season, but both players want to win major championships and both players want to be No. 1.

There's no way to truly measure it, but it seemed when Mickelson was trying to challenge Woods, he didn't really think he was the best golfer in the world. It seemed like Mickelson didn't have the same level of confidence and belief in himself as Woods.

That's not necessarily a fact. That's just a strong perception.

With McIlroy and Woods, there is no give on either side. McIlroy may have wrested the crown from Woods, but the former champion still acts like he should be the best in the world and he will be once again.

McIlroy know that he is the best in the world right now and that he's not going to give up that title without a fight.

You get the feeling that McIlroy would enjoy that good fight.

The groundwork is being laid for a tremendous rivalry. But playing well in the first months of the season won't get it done.

The battle must play out in the major championships, and the first one will set the tone in 2013.

That means the Masters in April is the best place to start.

If Woods and McIlroy can look each other in the eye and battle down the stretch of the back nine on Sunday, it will be an incredible start to the real golf season.

The sport deserves it.