Tiger-Rory rivalry could take root

Where would sport be without rivalries? Yankees-Dodgers, Celtics-Lakers, Packers-Bears, Arnie vs. Jack, Seve vs. entire US Ryder Cup team, Tiger-Phil — the list is endless.

We love rivalries. Live for them. Sports thrive on them. That’s why what’s blossoming here in the desert could be great for golf for the next few years to come.

There might be 129 players in the field, but all eyes rest on two — Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. They played the first two rounds in the company of World No. 1 Luke Donald, but he was just a distraction. The galleries cared only for Woods and McIlroy.

The parallels between the two are obvious. Both were child prodigies. Woods appeared on Johnny Carson’s TV show when he was 2 years old. McIlroy wasn’t quite that young when he appeared on Ireland’s popular "Gerry Kelly Show," but he was chipping balls into a washing machine on live TV at 9.

Both were winning tournaments and setting record scores against older opposition from the moment they started playing tournaments. This rivalry almost seems preordained.

Although it’s hard to predict the future on the basis of two rounds of golf, Woods looks as if he could make a serious assault on the majors this year. He feels his swing is close to where it was when he was the dominant force in golf.

“I feel like I’m swinging well, and a lot of things (swing instructor) Sean (Foley) and I have been working on are starting to feel very comfortable. Consequently I’m shooting good scores,” Woods said.

“The club is in a similar position that I had when I was younger. I’m doing it in a slightly different way, better mechanics but a similar position.”

Music to the ears of golf fans everywhere — and backed up by McIlroy.

“He’s definitely got the ball under control,” McIlroy said. “He seems comfortable. He’s only made a couple of bogeys in two days. He’s not making many mistakes and he’s very consistent. His ball flight looks good. I’m really looking forward to battling over the weekend.”

Of course, Woods would never entertain the thought of singling out one man to beat. He’s far more diplomatic than that

Not McIlroy, though. He’s champing at the bit to take on Woods.

“Everyone knows I grew up idolizing him, so it would be great for me to test myself against him,” McIlroy said.

More music to the ears of fans the world over.

“It’s a great motivation for me," McIlroy added. "I feel 2012 is going to be an exciting year for me."

And hopefully for golf. McIlroy might have won only one major — last year’s US Open — but he was born to win the game’s greatest tournaments. Some of the biggest names in the game feel that way.

“Better than Tiger Woods at the same age,” claimed major winner and Woods’ mentor Mark O’Meara.

“Rory is by far the best young player I’ve ever played with,” said 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy.

“The next No. 1,” proclaimed Ernie Els.

Countryman Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open winner, believes McIlroy is the one player in the game today who can make a serious assault on Woods’ haul in the majors.

“Will he achieve what Tiger was doing around 2000 and win 14 major championships? Can he be that good? He’s got that potential," McDowell said.

Let’s hope so. Let’s hope the pair battle it out over the Abu Dhabi fairways for the next two days and then do it again in the tournaments that really count — the majors. It would be great for the game of golf.

To paraphrase the closing line of Casablanca: This could be the start of a beautiful rivalry.