Among those who could be in his way is Woods, the prohibitive favorite with wins at Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill in the last few months.
There was hope of a rivalry between generations, only that hasn't materialized. They only thing they have in common this year is that both have a swoosh on their shirts, both started the year by missing the cut and both have celebrity girlfriends — tennis star Caroline Wozniacki for McIlroy, Olympic ski champion Lindsey Vonn for Woods.
Woods has had plenty of rivals over the years, and sees McIlroy as the next one.
"Over the course of my career, I've had a few. Certainly, Rory is this generation," Woods said. "I've had Phil (Mickelson) and Vijay (Singh) and Ernie (Els) and David (Duval) for a number of years, and now Rory's the leader of this new, younger generation. So, yes, definitely."
McIlroy isn't so sure.
Never mind that he became the first player to win consecutive PGA Tour events with Woods in the field, or that he built a big gap in the world ranking by the end of last year. Padraig Harrington once said it could be McIlroy — not Woods — who has the best chance of breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors.
Not so fast, McIlroy replied.
"When you speak of rivals, you tend to put rivals who have had similar success," McIlroy said. "He's got 77 PGA Tour wins. I've got six. He's got 14 majors. I've got two. If I saw myself a rival to Tiger, I wouldn't really be doing him much justice."
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