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McIlroy - Woods: A Rivalry That Could Save Golf?03:00
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Tiger Woods (left) finished 69th at the 2014 British Open, which was won by Rory McIlroy (right). (Warren Little/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods (left) finished 69th at the 2014 British Open, which was won by Rory McIlroy (right). (Warren Little/Getty Images)
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Only three men have won three of golf’s major tournaments by the age of 25: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. McIlroy’s impressive performance at the British Open last weekend landed him in that esteemed group.

Tiger Woods’ dismal showing at the same tournament reminded ESPN’s Farrell Evans that Tiger is not the golfer he once was. Evans joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: You point out that McIlroy and Woods used the same red Nike driver last weekend — nice visual detail. Did their games have anything else in common?

FE: Not much. Rory McIlroy hit his driver for four days masterfully — you know, was able to just chew that course up. Meanwhile, Tiger is struggling to find the fairway, and when he did find the fairway he was hitting 5 and 6-irons. And, you know, oftentimes Rory was hitting 8 and 9-irons, and that’s not a game that you’re going to win.

BL: Jack Nicklaus was in his 60s by the time Tiger Woods came to prominence, so their rivalry was pretty much limited to the record books, but Woods and McIlroy could cross paths. And you seem to be hoping that they will in fact become rivals. Why is that?

[sidebar title="Reversing the Decline" align="right"] One golf company is thriving, despite fewer golfers out on the links. Bill speaks to the CEO of Topgolf. [/sidebar]FE: Well, I think that’s the hope of the game. I mean right now, you know, the game of golf is struggling. Rounds of golf are down. Dick’s Sporting Goods just laid off PGA professionals because they can’t move product in their stores. So Tiger has the ability to galvanize interest in the way that no one does.

BL: Everything seems to be going right for Rory McIlroy these days — at least on the golf course. How has that come about? What has changed for him?

FE: Well, I mean it’s just been a maturation process. He’s made some big management changes. He’s made some golf club changes, and he’s had a relationship change. He ended his engagement. So he’s at a point where he’s clearheaded for the first time, and he knows what he’s doing. So this win was a step in the right direction, I think, in terms of him being the professional that he wants to be have a Tiger-like career.

BL: It’s been more than six years since Woods has won a major, and he’s at risk for ending this year without a top-ten finish in a major for the first time in his career. Can he even recover his game well enough to challenge McIlroy?

FE: You know, I want to say yes, but Tiger will be 39 in December. With his injuries and his swing seems to be in flux – he cannot hit the driver in the fairway. You know, it’s going to be very, very tough. I mean, the game is as tough as it’s ever been, so I’m not sure Tiger at his best is going to be able to beat Rory McIlroy or even some of the other players.

BL: The game of golf is suffering a well-publicized decline, as you have mentioned. Would a Woods-McIlroy rivalry, should it actually manifest itself, be something that would bring fans back in large numbers to the game?

FE: I think you will have great buzz around a rivalry with those two guys, but I don’t know if that’s going to mean that we’re going to have more people buying more golf equipment and playing more rounds of golf. So I think in the short term I think it’s great for TV ratings and people talking about the game, but I don’t know if that’s actually going to bring people to the game.

This segment aired on July 26, 2014.

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