by Andrew Robinson
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are closer than ever after the Northern Irishman signed a huge $150 million deal with Nike, the company that stood by Tiger when his extracurricular activates were revealed.
His friends say the money won’t change McIlroy, but one thing it will do is ramp up his rivalry with Woods.
While the pair are now in the same stable, the delicate peace between the best player in the last 15 years and the young upstart, who sits at the top of the golf world rankings, is set to increase over the next year.
Now that they’re using the same clubs, wearing the same clothes and getting the same perks, they will both want to show their dominance and where they sit on the golf food chain.
Tiger is not used to being asked about other players on the tour and there’s no doubt that he’ll be biting his tongue every time he’s got to say what a good player McIlroy is, something he must grudge doing when you compare their records.
Woods can relax in the knowledge he has 14 majors to his name, compared with McIlroy’s two, his earnings trump the youngsters and he’s probably better with the ladies, although Rory is with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
The mind games have started early, with the former number one sticking the boot into his young rival, by hinting that he’s not the finished article. “He’s won a couple major championships by large margins, so he has all the tools, and he’s only going to refine them.”
The 2013 season looks set to be a war from start to finish for the pair and the first battle takes place this week on the man-made, lush, green fairways of Abu Dhabi.
McIlroy is confident and looking forward to getting the most out of his new Nike clubs. And he’s right to be ready and raring to go as his last 19 rounds have all been par or better with 15 of them in the 60s.
“It’s an exciting time and I’m very happy with everything that’s going on and just looking forward to getting out on the golf course and putting the new clubs and new equipment into play,” said McIlroy.
Unsurprisingly, the world numbers one and two sit at the top of the latest betting, with McIlroy 9/2 favourite to lift the trophy, which will probably be bigger and heavier than him. Woods is on offer at 7/1.
With both looking to impress in their first head-to-head since Rory joined Tiger at Nike there could be some fireworks and both are priced at 100/1 to hit a hole in one.
They are both in Group A at the tournament, along with Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Jason Dufner, with the other three looking to pull off upsets during the week.
If you think all the talk around Woods and McIlroy is all hype then you could be looking for a little more value in the market. South African golfers have been in fine early-season form, with Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen winning recent tournaments.
The pair haven’t made the trip to Abu Dhabi, but countryman George Coetzee has and he’s on offer at 40/1 to pick up the win.
Whatever happens this weekend, 2013 is going to be one of the most exciting seasons of golf ever, with the top two players in the world going up against each other to prove they are the best the game has to offer.