The Great Rivalry is real … or it isn’t, depending whether it’s Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy talking.
The matchup that the golf world here at Augusta most anticipates is Woods vs. McIlroy, No. 1 vs. No. 2, the older guy and the younger guy, the reigning heavyweight champ and his anointed successor.
Sounds intriguing, all right, only McIlroy doesn’t see it that way - not in the least.
“No, I don’t see myself as a rival to Tiger or to anyone,” McIlroy said Tuesday at Augusta National Golf Club. “Tiger has been on tour for, what, 12 more years than me or something like that. So his record – when you speak of rivals, you tend to put rivals who have had similar success.
“He’s got 77 PGA Tour wins, I’ve got six. He’s got 14 majors, I’ve got two. If I saw myself as a rival to Tiger, I wouldn’t really be doing him much justice.”
Woods, meanwhile, has a totally dissimilar opinion on the rivalry issue. It’s a rivalry with Rory, he said, because Woods knows a rivalry when he sees one.
“I think that over the course of my career, I’ve had a few,” Woods said. “You know, certainly Rory is this generation. I’ve had Phil and Vijay and Ernie and David for a number of years, and now Rory’s leading this new, younger generation. So yes, definitely.”
There is clearly one number that Woods owns that McIlroy cannot touch. That would be Woods’ four Masters titles. McIlroy has none, though he was ahead after 63 holes in 2011, only to finish the fourth round with an 80 to wind up in a tie for 15th, 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
Woods tied for fourth after closing with a 67, his 10th top five at the Masters.
But besides his four Masters titles, there’s another number that Woods owns, and this one he would prefer to change. He hasn’t won the Masters in seven years, his last victory in 2005. Last year, Woods tied for 40th.
“I put myself in the mix every year but last year, and that’s the misleading part, is that it’s not like I’ve been out of there with no chance of winning this championship,” he said. “I’ve been there in the mix on the back nine, either not executed, not made enough putts or didn’t take care of the par 5s, or whatever it may be.”
Woods hasn’t had many problems so far this year, with three more PGA Tour victories and seemingly on top of his game. There are those in Woods’ camp who hint that Woods is using a different approach to the Masters this year and instead of putting too much pressure on himself, he’s just going to play and let the chips fall where they may.
Maybe they will fall like an endless stream of putts disappearing into the hole. Woods believes he could have won a couple more Masters if he had putted better. But he isn’t complaining about anything right now.
“I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game,” he said.
McIlroy has two top 10s this year in five events on the PGA Tour, including a runner-up finish last week at the Valero Texas Open. He also had a controversial withdrawal at the Honda Classic.
But this is a new week. It’s the Masters and the start of something good, McIlroy believes.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s my favorite tournament of the year. I think everyone knows that.”
His rival, real or imagined, shares the feeling.