Ever since Tiger Woods turned professional and won the Masters by 12 strokes in 1997, fans and the media have yearned for him to develop a rivalry. Several players have pushed him at various times in his career, but no one has consistently challenged him.
Many think 23-year-old Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland will step up. The reigning PGA Tour and European Tour Player of the Year, McIlroy has wonderful talent, a great demeanor and is seldom seen without a smile on his face. This week, he joined the 37-year-old Woods as a Nike athlete.
The top-ranked McIlroy and second-ranked Woods will begin the 2013 season this week in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. They will be grouped together in the first two rounds with Martin Kaymer in the featured threesome.
Both Woods and McIlroy agree it's premature to suggest a rivalry is brewing. They simply haven't played together enough, particularly down the stretch of a major championship.
"It would be very similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil (Mickelson) two years into my career," Woods said. "That wasn't the case. It takes time.
"Over the course of my career, I've gone head-to-head against Ernie (Els) and Vijay (Singh) the most. That's happened over 16, 17 years, and we've been going at it like that. But it takes time."
McIlroy won four times on the PGA Tour last year, and Woods won three events, but they only played together on eight occasions. Tiger carded the lower score six times, but McIlroy finished with a better 72-hole total five times.
Both were in the hunt in Abu Dhabi last year. Woods shared the 54-hole lead with eventual winner Robert Rock, but wound up tying for third, two strokes back. McIlroy finished second.
At the Honda Classic, Woods made a furious, final-round comeback attempt by firing a 62 to put the heat on McIlroy, but came up two shots short, tying for second place.
Both enjoy playing together and welcome future battles, but neither will force the issue. After all, Tiger owns 74 PGA Tour wins -- second all time -- and 14 major championships. McIlroy has claimed six PGA Tour titles and two majors.
"We really haven't had enough head-to-head matches," Woods said. "Let's just give it time and see how it pans out."
Woods, McIlroy and Kaymer tee off Wednesday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club at 10:40 p.m. ET (7:40 a.m. local time Thursday) and Friday at 3:05 a.m. ET (12:05 p.m. local time Friday). All four rounds will be televised live on the Golf Channel.