Tiger and Rory chase a bonus at Barclays to kick off two-month long heavyweight duel


If Rory McIlroy was wondering how the heck you come up with an encore when you win the season's final major by eight shots, then his playing partner for Thursday's start of the FedEx Cup play-offs ought to concentrate the mind.

They've always loved a heavyweight contest in New York and you get the feeling one or two of the city’s sports fans might be tempted to venture on to Long Island for the first instalment of McIlroy versus Tiger Woods.

Over the next two months, whether it be at the FedEx, the Turkish Airlines World Championship, the duel at Jinsha Lake or the Ryder Cup, the man who dominated his sport for a decade and more is going to be seeing an awful lot of the 23-year-old Northern Irishman he regards as his rightful heir.
Let the rivalry begin.

Superstar: Tiger Woods is escorted by New York State Police during the pro-am for The Barclays

Superstar: Tiger Woods is escorted by New York State Police during the pro-am for The Barclays

Warming up: Rory McIlroy at Bethpage

Warming up: Rory McIlroy at Bethpage

Like everyone else, McIlroy was disappointed when all the seedy revelations surrounding Woods came gushing out  following that fateful  Thanksgiving collision with a fire hydrant in 2009. 

But McIlroy has moved on. He was like a kid in a candy shop playing alongside Woods for the first time at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January and there’s no disguising his enthusiasm regarding what’s in store over the next two days. 

‘To play with Tiger is a dream come true,’ said McIlroy. ‘Playing alongside and competing against your hero, not many people get to do that.’ 

When you get to the rarefied levels these two occupy, only a major victory can make a  season a great one, so whatever happens, the kudos will go to McIlroy, following his  US PGA Championship win. 

But over these next eight weeks or so, Woods has the opportunity to lay down a psychological marker, and build on the patchy evidence delivered to date that there are still great seasons left for him.

Woods and McIlroy stand at the top of the FedEx rankings going into the four play-off events — first up is The Barclays, at Bethpage Black — on the back of uncannily similar records. Tiger has three wins and six top 10s to his name, while Rory has two victories and seven top 10s. 

Woods is top of the money list and has the lowest scoring average. McIlroy is top of the world rankings and has his major. The venue offers hope that they will still be together at the business end of the  tournament as well. 

It was at Bethpage in 2002 that Woods put his only American rival Phil Mickelson in his place with a three-stroke victory at the US Open.

Fairway to go: Englishman Justin Rose tees off on the first hole in practice ahead of The Barclays

Fairway to go: Englishman Justin Rose tees off on the first hole in practice ahead of The Barclays

When America’s national title returned to the course seven years later, McIlroy dropped his first hint of what was to come with his first top 10 in a major.

Since lapping the field at Kiawah, McIlroy has been spending time with his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki and having his picture taken with another No 1, Roger Federer. 

The FedEx Cup how it works

Points were awarded through the regular season, with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy finishing as the top two seeds for New York.

Now the points on offer for each event increase dramatically as the numbers competing dwindle, until one man finishes with a £7.5million bonus the Sunday before the Ryder Cup.

All told, £50m is up for grabs: £22m of prize money, plus £28m of bonuses.

In advance of the tee-time with Woods, he appeared on CBS Television’s This Morning programme yesterday, where he talked about the importance of following up his first major victory at the US Open last year. 

The vast majority of the game’s top players will be in New York at the start of what promises to be an exciting build-up to the Ryder Cup. 

American captain Davis Love will also choose four wildcards during the period, so the leading candidates — Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Brandt Snedeker — will be eager to impress.

Europe’s team, meanwhile, will be finalised at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, beginning on Thursday, where Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts will overtake German Martin Kaymer for the final automatic slot if he finishes first or second.

Captain Jose Maria  Olazabal will name his two wildcards on Monday. As things stand, Ian Poulter is certain to get one, with Colsaerts the hot favourite for the other.