THE RORY MCILROY versus Tiger Woods rivalry, which we said would play out over the course of the FedEx Cup playoffs, has turned out to be as close and dramatic as we could have hoped for.
It has been overshadowed somewhat by the narrative of the Ryder Cup wildcard selections, but the McIlroy v Woods battle has been in full flight since the FedEx Cup got underway.
No better an example of that was what unfolded last night at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Over the front nine, with Rory starting three shots ahead, they exchanged birdies with regularity.
McIlroy was in that kind of form where his iron shots seemed to fly like laser beams and with everything landing in and around the flag. It was the same kind of golf we’ve seen in both his Major wins and when we see that kind of golf from him, you know it’s going to take something really special to beat him, particularly when you give him a few shots of a head start.
Tiger Woods, on the other hand, in contrast to his recent form, didn’t throw away a chance to win a tournament over the final two days. In fact, his golf on Sunday was out of the top drawer. He made a lot more, though not all, of the kind of putts he needs to make to contend and the kind of putts we haven’t seen him make with any kind of consistency recently.
You might even go so far as to argue that it was his best final round in any tournament all year, even if he has won three times before this week.
But McIlroy wasn’t giving anything away. After nine holes, despite four birdies from Woods, he still held a strong lead. The Northern Irishman had also played the front nine in four under.
Louis Oosthuizen also had his say. Despite an upper-body muscle injury, which clearly hampered his swing over the early holes, he rallied to make some birdies early in the back nine and from there the adrenaline took over to numb the injury, but there was also a feeling he may have let nerves take over.
Even a hiccup on the 14th for McIlroy, where he didn’t manage to find either the fairway or the green, still resulted in a par when a bogey looked the more likely outcome.
The same happened again on 15, and on reflection, it is more likely in the bogeys he avoided than the birdies he made that his victory was created.
And he seemed to relish the heat of competition. Even when he mis-hit a couple of shots over 14 and 15, he didn’t let it get to him in the manner we have seen earlier in the year when he would get very frustrated at his poor shots. This was a much more calm and composed Rory McIlroy.
When two players as good as Woods and Oosthuizen are coming at you, it certainly takes a lot of bottle to hold it out.
On 17, it looked like his luck may have run out when he pushed his tee shot right and then pulled his second left. When he caught a heavy lie and put his chip through the green, it looked like a double bogey might be on the cards, and all of sudden, it would have been anyone’s game. But again he remained calm, didn’t panic and managed to salvage a bogey.
As he told The Golf Channel as he came off the 18th green, “it was survival”.
McIlroy may have won this particular battle, but he has by no means won the war that is the race to the Tour Championship and the quest to win the FedEx Cup playoffs.
As it stands, the Northern Irishman has a lead of just under 1400 points, but we know that one high finish can change all that. A win for any player in the top 7 of the standings would leapfrog McIlroy at the top, but it is probably Woods that he will be most concerned about.
Both men are playing well, and with a huge amount for them both to play for over the coming weeks, it will be brilliant viewing.