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Golf's Greatest Rivalries


In a press conference prior to the Barclays, Rory McIlroy spotted Tiger Woods and joked that he was going to "kick his ass." Tiger and the rest of the room had a laugh, but as they say, there's an undercurrent of truth in every good joke, and you have to wonder if the duo's budding bromance could give way to an actual rivalry. It's exactly what golf needs. The game is never more energized than when there's a vigorous rivalry, a hunter and a hunted, a dominant force challenged by a hungry up-and-comer.

Throughout the Woods era, Tiger's never had a suitable rival, despite repeated efforts to elevate Phil Mickelson into that role. McIlroy's two eight-shot wins in majors indicate that he's a worthy heir to Tiger's throne, and if Woods can harness his talents for one last run, we could see the kind of rivalry that harkens back to the days of Palmer-Nicklaus.

With that in mind, here are golf's greatest rivalries.

Ben Hogan - Sam Snead - Byron Nelson
Once upon a time, this was golf's holy triumvirate. All born in the same year — 1912 — this trio combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 major titles. In 2000, Golf Digest ranked them as the second-, third- and fifth-best golfers, respectively, of all time. Their desire to beat each other produced some of the greatest golf ever played.

Arnold Palmer - Jack Nicklaus
The greatest golf rivalry of all time ushered in golf's modern age and its explosion of purse money and television exposure. Arnie was a mentor to Jack until the latter started dominating their head-to-head battles, and the relationship devolved into one of grudging respect rather than actual friendship.

Jack Nicklaus - Lee Trevino
Four times, Nicklaus finished second in major championships to Trevino, who was pushed to the greatest performances of his career by his burning desire to beat the Golden Bear.

Jack Nicklaus - Tom Watson
Like Trevino, Watson thwarted Nicklaus in four different majors, including the famed "Duel in the Sun" at the 1977 British Open, the greatest head-to-head battle in golf history. Think about that for a second. If not for Trevino and Watson, Nicklaus would have 26 major titles.

Nick Faldo - Greg Norman
This rivalry bridged the gap between the Nicklaus and Woods eras in golf. Faldo frequently got the better of Norman, drubbing him in a head-to-head pairing at the 1990 British Open at St. Andrews and taking advantage of Norman's epic collapse at the 1996 Masters.

Tiger Woods - Phil Mickelson
This "rivalry" is more of a media contrivance given Tiger's vastly superior numbers, but the two have staged some stirring head-to-head duels, most notably at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, where Phil was clearly the choice of a raucous New York crowd.

U.S. - Europe
The Ryder Cup has joined the majors among golf's pre-eminent events due to Europe's recent success in these biennial matches, which were once dominated by the U.S. but have seen a clear shift in power. Since 1985, Europe has won eight of the 13 Cups, and the competition has grown more heated and personal every time — primarily because of Europe's burning desire to crush the Yanks.