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Rory vs Tiger: The duel that golf demands

RORY McIlroy's victory at Valhalla this week "proves" two inextricably linked truths: the “Tiger era” is over and the “Rory era” has begun.

IN MANY people's minds Rory McIlroy's victory at Valhalla this week proves two inextricably linked truths: that the Irishman is the game’s new poster boy (and the “Tiger era” is supposedly over) and that the game can now survive without the old one (i.e. the “Rory era” has begun).

Such notions are speculative at best and both assertions may or may not be true, but in many ways they are futile discussions with no right or wrong answer.

They also ignore a third, and far more mouthwatering prospect: what if they both step up over the next few years?

McIlroy at his best is the only golfer seen since the emergence of Woods who may actually be able to go shot for shot with the 14-time major winner when he, too, is at his peak.

Both are capable of other worldly play, McIlroy's driving ability a thing of such astonishing power and accuracy it is as mesmerising to watch as Woods' short game in full flight.

Imagine the spectacle if the two of them ever went head to head in one of the game's four big events, a modern day “Duel in the Sun”, if you will. (For those unfamiliar, the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry saw Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson go shot for shot in one of the greatest final rounds in history.)

The one thing missing during the 18 years of Woods' professional career has been the existence of a genuine challenger, but in McIlroy we finally have a worthy contender.

There have been bit players over the years (Rocco Mediate at the 2008 US Open, Bob May, ironically, at the 2000 PGA at Valhalla), but for the best part of two decades there has been little doubt in anyone's mind, golfers included, who was the biggest rooster in golf's hen house.

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And as unlikely as it seems at the moment given Woods' broken physical state, Rory's recent run may actually be the thing that sparks Tiger back to his best.

At 39 and with a body damaged by a relentless pursuit of greatness, Woods can't play the way he did in his 20s.

However, every analyst who knows anything about the game has always pointed to Woods' incredible mental discipline as the most impressive club in his bag.

While physically McIlroy is playing about as well as anyone has in the history of the game right now there is one department in which he can't match Woods: experience.

That extends to the off-course pressures that come with the scrutiny McIlroy is now under and has more impact on performance than fans may think.

Head-to-head it would be an enthralling battle to watch. Woods is one of the game's great match players, as evidenced by his six USGA amateur titles, and the prospect of a duel with Rory might be just the tonic needed to stop his incessant swing tinkering and get back to playing instinctive golf.

McIlroy, while not having as much success in the match play format, proved last Sunday he is capable of overcoming adversity under the most intense pressure by playing as freely as Woods used to.

No matter whether you're in the McIlroy or Woods camp there's not a golf fan alive who wouldn't want to see both of these great champions going shot for shot in a match that mattered.

2015 Masters anybody?                             

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