Punch Shot: Best rivalry in today's game?

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World No. 1 Inbee Park beat No. 2 Stacy Lewis this past week in Taiwan. Is that the best rivalry in golf? If not, then what is? GolfChannel.com writers offer up their take on the best rivarly in today's game.

By JASON SOBEL

In terms of progressive movements, golf often remains stuck in neutral a little longer than other sports – let alone society. In terms of rivalries, growing them organically is nearly impossible because of the eclectic nature of the game, which features one new leaderboard after another instead of the same stalwarts battling on a weekly basis.

With each of those ideas in mind, it should speak volumes that after about 15 years of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson serving as golf’s greatest rivalry – despite the not-to-be-overlooked fact that we can count on one hand the number of times they truly went head-to-head on Sunday’s back-nine of a big tournament – we’ve finally transitioned into the next phase.

The biggest rivalry in the game is now that of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

It’s less about direct matchups (we’re still waiting for one) or any perceived friction (there isn’t any) and more about the generational gap. Woods represents everything we’ve known about golf for the past two decades; McIlroy represents everything we’re in the process of learning.

In this way, their rivalry is less analogous to Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer – a comparison which was fitting for Woods v. Mickelson – and more so to that of Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Here’s hoping we’ll soon get a chance to witness their own Duel in the Sun.


By RANDALL MELL

Hey, how often do Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson actually duel? Or Tiger and Rory McIlroy? The Americans and South Koreans bump heads in Sunday finishes just about every week on the LPGA circuit. They’re the most dominant forces in the game, consistently battling each other for titles. The Americans reigned supreme over the first half of this season, with the South Koreans taking over in the second half.

These nations have combined to win 21 of the 29 LPGA events staged this year. Plus, there’s the duel atop the world rankings, where South Korea’s Inbee Park and the United States’ Stacy Lewis have taken turns holding the No. 1 ranking for the last 86 weeks. Park and Lewis also are battling over Rolex Player of the Year, the Race to the CME Globe, the Vare Trophy and official money winning title. South Koreans (2) and Americans (3) combined to win all five of the majors this year. Now that’s a rivalry.


By RYAN LAVNER

It’s telling that Tiger vs. Rory is the most hyped rivalry in golf and the two stars have never even clashed head-to-head on Sunday in a major – typically, a rivalry requirement.

But Sunday showdowns or not, it’s the most compelling competition in the sport. The battle lines are clearly drawn: Tiger backers claim that Rory’s four major titles still leave him, you know, TEN behind Woods; Rory’s supporters, meanwhile, say that Tiger is washed up, injury-prone and will be stuck on 14 for eternity.

There is no right answer, of course, not yet anyway, which makes their mere presence in tournaments all the more intriguing. Fifteen or so times a year the rivalry is renewed, the old master versus the young king, with Woods, the most dominant player of all time, trying to ward off not just Father Time and injury but also a 25-year-old kid with the star appeal, the powerful swing and the fearless attitude, each result seemingly providing more fodder for the opposing side. 

If ever they face off on the back nine at Augusta, or over the closing stretch at the Open, the rivalry will reach new heights. In the meantime, embrace the new reality because the website metrics don’t lie – it’s the most compelling rivalry in golf. 


By WILL GRAY

It’s been a few months since we last saw them clash, but the best rivalry in the game remains Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.

The scene that broke out at the 2013 Players Championship was nothing short of surreal, with both players actively voicing their displeasure with the other, and Garcia even accusing Woods of some mid-round gamesmanship. The rivalry goes back to the 1999 PGA Championship and was rekindled at the 2002 U.S. Open, both instances where Woods emerged victorious – as he did last year at TPC Sawgrass.

To have a potent rivalry, you need players with strong emotions, and opinions, on both sides. Woods vs. Garcia certainly has that – somewhat of a rarity in golf – and what their history lacks in volume, it more than makes up for with the quality of each duel.