For more than a decade, golf fans were secure in the knowledge that Tiger Woods ruled their sport. Sure, Phil Mickelson was a useful foil for Tiger, and every now and then a Vijay Singh or Padraig Harrington would assert himself before slinking back into the woodwork. But Woods was the Man. Even after the Thanksgiving thunderbolt that derailed the Woods train, we all expected Tiger to resume his rule at any time.
But now that we've reached four years and counting with Tiger stuck on 14 majors, I think we're free to reassess. Now that the Woods era seems to be truly on the wane, it's time to anoint a new king. Science tells us that nature hates a vacuum, and after two eight-shot wins in majors in the last 14 months, Rory McIlroy looks ready to fill the void at the top of golf.
And more than that, Rory looks likes he could be the kind of historic force in the game that Woods was. The proof comes when you compare the two at similar points in their careers.
Let's look at the Tiger vs. Rory tale of the tape through their age-23 seasons — Woods through 1999, Rory through the 2012 PGA. Rory's record is impressive, but Woods was already dominating the PGA Tour at a similar stage, and he reached his apex the following season, giving 2013 extra meaning for Rory in his effort to match Woods' career trajectory.
Edge to Tiger — for now.
TALE OF THE TAPE
TIGER (age 23) RORY
Major championships won 2 2
Combined margin of victory 13 16
Major top 5s 4 5
Major top 10s 7 6
PGA Tour wins 11 4
Worldwide wins 13 6
Scoring avg. (PGA Tour) 69.10 (1997) 70.35 (2010)
69.21 (1998) 69.48 (2011)
68.43 (1999) 69.02 (2012)
Ryder Cup record 3-6-1 1-1-2