by Jeff Skinner
As we all lick our chops, salivating, thinking of what a Rory versus Tiger rivalry could be we have to take a second to realize how different these two golfers are. No doubt they are two of the most talented players in the world but as far as attitude and personality they couldn’t be more different.
For many it seems like Tiger was the best player on the planet forever. He was number one for a dozen years and won majors at a pace that even Jack Nicklaus never matched. He intimidated golfers with his skill and his arrogance. Just by standing on the first tee surrounded by galleries that only came to see him, he could get into the heads of his anxious opponents. Tiger used his reputation and his “fear factor” to his advantage not only against golfers but also towards any member of the media.
In his quest for perfection Woods has changed his swing four times and it appears that his latest changes are finally settled and his game is nearly consistent. With such an explosive swing and his torturous workouts Woods has driven his body to the limits and injuries and surgeries have trailed him recently.
Even during Tiger’s best days when he collected PGA wins and major championships like there were pennies in a jar he rarely looked like he was enjoying himself. Tiger says he “loves golf” but it seems that he is seldom joyful on the course. Tiger gets his joy on the course from striking the perfect shot and by stepping on the necks of his opponents. While we have seen the former recently, the latter hasn’t happened in a very long time.
McIlroy is hands down the most talented young golfer playing today. Only Tiger (when he was playing well) and Phil Mickelson could be considered in his class. But the differences in Rory and Tiger are obvious. Rory has as smooth a swing as there is on any tour. His suppleness and rhythm makes his swing look effortless. Where Tiger explodes to impact, Rory seems to doing an imitation of “Iron Byron” not the man, the machine that is used to test golf equipment. He is smooth and long and languid and puts little strain on his body with a tempo that rivals a metronome. He is still as long as Woods off the tee but his body never pays the price.
McIlroy has learned some hard lessons recently. Last year at The Masters he had a chance to win his first major but failed miserably in the final round. His attitude after: I’ll learn from this and be back. He was right and when his next chance came at the U.S. Open two months later he smoked the field at Congressional. Rory is only 22 and with that comes a youthful, playful attitude. Yes, a globetrotting superstar is bound to learn the ways of the world and mature quickly but he is still a kid that really loves playing golf. He gets his joy by being on the course and playing well but if he misses a shot or falls short of victory he knows it isn’t the end of the world.
Rory came from a modest background and while his parents worked multiple jobs to give him every opportunity to play, they never pushed him. He is kept grounded by the fact that he came from a working class environment and wasn’t a “country club kid.” He’s still approachable by both the fans and the media and handles all requests whether they be for autographs or interviews like he enjoys them not like a trip to the proctologist. Rory’s status in the game and his bulging bank account haven’t affected him yet and as his mother said on Sunday “He’s still a good boy.”
Rory may be from Northern Ireland but the American fans have taken him in as one of their own. At Congressional last summer right from the start no one got the support that Rory received. He’s easy to cheer for and fun to watch. Now with Woods hitting it truer and straighter watching the two of them go at it will be amazing.
Hopefully these two very skilled but very different golfers can hold on to their games for awhile and give us some historic head to head battles. The stage is set over the next few weeks and with the first major showdown at Augusta barely a month away this season is setup for some remarkable golf, and maybe a bit of a rivalry.