It’s a wonderful thing.
It happened again Wednesday in the BMW Championship media center with Woods moving off the stage and McIlroy moving onto it.
With McIlroy winning two big events in the last month, you wondered if there was something compellingly symbolic in this passing, if McIlroy, in a larger sense, is ready to take Woods’ place on the game’s grand stages.
It’s better for the game if they’re both ascending with their forms, if they can keep sharing big moments in these playoffs and beyond.
They had smiles for each other, shaking hands in the media center.
“Good to see you playing so well in the pro-am,” McIlroy cracked after seeing Woods’ team atop the leaderboard.
“You like that, huh?” Woods said.
Who doesn’t like seeing Woods and McIlroy moving toward top form together? So many crave seeing the game’s next meaningful rivalry develop, but it’s Woods and McIlroy who hold the power to make it happen.
In PGA Tour headquarters, there isn’t a better time for a rivalry like this to emerge.
McIlroy and Woods could re-shape the way we think about the playoffs.
They are in position to make this the best FedEx Cup ever.
After watching McIlroy and Woods put a buzz into the opening of the playoffs with their first- and second-round pairings at The Barclays, and then watching Woods chase McIlroy down the stretch of last week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, the table is set for the most memorable FedEx Cup finish since the PGA Tour created this postseason format in 2007.
With McIlroy and Woods paired together again this week for the first two rounds of the BMW Championship, the storyline heats up.
McIlroy was asked if there’s an added challenge in being paired so often.
“I think it definitely creates some more interest for the fans and for golf in general,” McIlroy said. “I don't see any challenge in it. I think it's just good fun.”
McIlroy is clearly the frontrunner to win his first PGA Tour Player of the Year honor, but Woods can give his peers pause before casting their votes with a big FedEx Cup finish. McIlroy and Woods each have claimed a Tour-leading three titles this year, but McIlroy has a substantial advantage with his PGA Championship victory, the lone major between them this season.
Still, what if Woods wins the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship and takes home the FedEx Cup? The vote after that would tell us a lot about how much majors really matter to Tour pros and how important these playoffs have become.
The voting matters to Woods, who is looking to add to his 10 PGA Tour Player of the Year awards, his first in three years.
“It’s always nice to get the respect of your peers,” Woods said. “It’s voted on by us. It's not voted on by anybody else. To have a year where the guys that you're trying to beat day in and day out think that you're the best player, that's saying something. It’s a great honor, and it's something that the guys who have won are very proud of.”
Here is a look at how McIlroy and Woods compare this season:
• McIlroy and Woods each have three victories this year with McIlroy claiming the only major between them. McIlroy won the Honda Classic, the PGA Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial and the AT&T National.
• McIlroy is first in FedEx Cup points, Woods is third.
• McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in money ($6,402,192), Woods is second ($5,533,158).
• McIlroy leads the PGA Tour in scoring average (68.869) with Woods second, just two thousands of a point behind.
• McIlroy is No. 1 in the world rankings, Woods is No. 3.
Though the major championship season is over, these playoffs and the upcoming Ryder Cup make for a potential big-bang finish to 2012. With Woods and McIlroy in starring roles, they make September matter.
They both like where their games are at for this big finish.
“I think I've really hit the ball well this entire year, especially this summer on, I've hit it really well,” Woods said. “It was just a matter of making a few more putts and a couple up and downs, here and there. I'm starting to do that now. So that's a good sign.
“The work I've put in with Sean [Foley], it's really coming together. I'm driving the ball probably better than I ever have. I'm hitting it farther, I'm hitting it straighter, which is a nice combo. I think my statistics kind of reflect that, which is great. It goes to show you where I was and how bad I was driving it to now, how well I'm driving it.”
While a McIlroy/Woods rivalry would put a jolt in the game, the sport’s biggest story continues to be Woods’ quest to overtake Jack Nicklaus record for major championship titles (18).
McIlroy was asked if Woods, at 36, looks capable of adding to his 14 major championship titles.
“He’s old, huh?” McIlroy playfully cracked. “I said it at the start of the year. I played with him in our first event of the year in Abu Dhabi, and I thought he played really, really well. He got himself in contention. He didn't quite win, but after seeing the performance there, I expected some great things from him this year. Obviously, he has won three times, and he has played well. He has had his chances in the majors, going into the weekends, and it just hasn't quite happened for him. But, for sure, he's going to keep putting himself up there in positions, and he's going to have a lot of chances to win tournaments and majors.”
While major championships will always be the greatest forum for forging rivalries, McIlroy and Woods hold the power to make the playoffs remembered for where theirs began.