THOSE who began to suspect Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods were going steady last year will have further fuel for their fires this week when the pair have their first golfing outing together in “matching” outfits.
The new Nike “twins” will be playing together for at least the first two rounds of the 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, beginning Thursday Australian time.
McIlroy will have a new set of clubs, including a new Nike putter, and the familiar Jumeirah cap will be gone in favour of one featuring the sponsor’s “Swoosh”. (McIlroy’s huge Nike deal)
The Abu Dhabi Golf Club showdown will be the first of a number of anticipated confrontations this year between the world’s currently top two ranked golfers.
Frivolous suggestions aside, Woods this week was reluctant to become too embroiled in promoting a two-man show.
“Rory McIlroy had a wonderful year, and my hat is off to him. He deserved Player of the Year,” Woods told golf writers in Abu Dhabi.
“Whether we develop a rivalry remains to be seen. Let’s just let it play out and see where it takes us,” he said.
“We’ll have to win big events and play each other down the stretch. That hasn’t happened yet. We’ve only played each other at the Honda [tournament] down the stretch. We need a lot more of those types of battles, but in bigger events.”
Woods in no way could be said to be back to his best but has still managed to reach the world No.2 spot behind his young rival.
After his five wins and second Major last year, 23 year old McIlroy was itching to get back to business.
“I’ve had a nice break over Christmas and the New Year, but it’s back to business now,” the Northern Irishman said.
“This is the sixth time I will have played the tournament, and I’ve always done pretty well here in the past.
“In the last four years, I have had two second-place finishes, a third and a fifth, so I know it’s a golf course that really suits my game.
“Last year was obviously an amazing season for me and it’s going to be tough to top it, but I feel refreshed and excited about the year ahead.”
Their “chaperone” for the first two rounds and the third golfer in their grouping is the uncompromising Martin Kaymer.
“I’m coming here to a golf course that I really like and have been successful on; that I never really have to play against my feel, which is very rare on golf courses where you go and you can really feel very comfortable,” the three time winner of the event said.
Other contenders include America’s Jason Dufner, Englishman Justin Rose and South Africa’s Ernie Els.
There are four Aussies taking part including Marcus Fraser, Richard Green, Andrew Dodt and Brett Rumford.
Defending champion is the always hatless Englishman Robert Rock. If there is any justice, Rock will eventually be the one on the European Senior Tour with (most of) the wrinkles.
2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Australian TV Times
The event is being screened live on Fox Sports Thursday to Sunday 8pm – 12pm, with the usual repeats.
2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Leaderboard2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Leaderboard