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The Woods and McIlroy rivalry: welcome to golf's golden era

Just do it. Nike have been telling us that for the best part of two decades, and for two of their highest paid superstars, it is time to act. For Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, it’s time to ‘just do it’.

For the first time since his meltdown in October 2010, Tiger Woods is the world number one once again. The swagger is back, the aura is re-igniting, and for previous golden boy Rory McIlroy, this will serve as a hard kick up the backside. The rivalry we feared we’d never see is here.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods: is a rivalry on the cards? (Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods: is a rivalry on the cards? (Getty Images)

Their fall and rise mirrored one another. As Woods fell from grace, the young Northern Irishman rose through the top ten and to the summit of world golf at a young age. Indeed, the youngest man to do so since, you guessed it, Tiger Woods. He romped home to win a major, Nike came calling and threw down their millions, fifteen years later, McIlroy is re-living Woods’ career.

To a point. McIlroy is suffering a lull that spans months since changing to his Nike clubs, a happy shift for Woods, whose form has done the opposite. The old boy is flying, and if McIlroy can recapture his form over the next few weeks, then this years Masters could well be a huge tussle between the two best players on the planet. Add a supporting cast of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and a host of in form Americans and you’ve got yourself one hell of a field.

The multi-million dollar McIlroy Nike deal came with a whirlwind of publicity and speculation. Writers everywhere decided that McIlroy was usurping Woods, that if Nike had their new poster boy, so did golf, and shortly after, Woods’ form picked up. Great champions don’t give up their mantle lightly, and Tiger Woods is most certainly one of those.

This said, McIlroy will surely take solace in his rival’s return from the outskirts. His form really is out of sorts, and although their lives outside of golf are poles apart, there are obvious similarities between the technical difficulties the two have battled with. If the old dog can learn new tricks, then the young pretender can put his troubles behind him fast, and throw himself at a major this year.

So on whose shoulders does the pressure sit? Well in different ways, both. The Northern Irishman will be built up as the outside bet desperately clinging on to his reign at the top, whilst Woods will harbour his own Nicklaus-enfused worries.

What’s for sure is that if McIlroy can pick up his game, this year’s Masters could be the starting point for one of sport’s truly great rivalries. Welcome to golf’s golden era.

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