Woods and McIlroy downplay burgeoning rivalry
After the snap and crackle of the early part of the week here, time to pop down and watch some golf. The ephemera of sponsorship deals and captaincy dramas dealt with, the now traditional early-season Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship pipe-opener gets under way this morning with a decent and deep field in attendance.
Six of the world’s top 25 players are here – and 15 of the top 50 – with obvious headline acts in the shape of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
There are others as well, not that you’re likely to hear very much about them while the world number one and two are out on the course.
Everyone from the organisers to the sponsors to the press have been so enamoured of the fact both Woods and McIlroy have taken their place in the field the temptation to light a little fire under a putative rivalry between the pair has been resisted by almost nobody.
Both men endured lengthy cajoling to let slip even the tiniest dog of war when they took to their pre-tournament press conferences on Tuesday yet neither of them bit.
The closest they came – and it wasn’t close at all – was when Woods agreed with McIlroy’s contention it was far too early to call what they have together a rivalry, for the simple reason they haven’t run into each other at the business end of a tournament yet.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve gone head-to-head against, I think, Ernie [Els] and Vijay [Singh] the most over the course of my career. That’s happened, what over 17 years, something like that.
“But it takes time. And certainly I think that Rory and I have done it once at the Honda. But you know, we haven’t really had the amount of matches that are head-to-head duels that I’ve had with Phil [Mickelson] and Vijay and Ernie.
“But then again, it’s only been a few years, so let’s just give it time and see how it pans out.”
It’s hard to see how that perfectly reasonable summation of their standing could be misconstrued and yet there was still the odd “Tiger Dismisses Rory As Rival” headline around and about. And so the pot boils.
They’re far from the only show in town all the same. Justin Rose gets his year under way in a tournament he’s never got around to playing in before, as does the understated American Jason Dufner.
Peter Hanson, Francesco Molinari and Paul Lawrie bring the quota from last year’s winning Ryder Cup team up to five and three-time winner of the tournament Martin Kaymer rounds it out to the neat half-dozen.
McIlroy heads a large Irish contingent that includes newly-named Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and erstwhile contender for the job at Gleneagles next year, Darren Clarke. Pádraig Harrington, Peter Lawrie,Shane Lowry, Michael Hoey, and Damien McGrane and Gareth Maybin will also be teeing off today.