KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — The next major is eight months away. The next showdown is nine days away.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are assured of being paired next week at the Barclays for the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. And while these playoff events are more about making money than making history, this could become meaningful down the road.
Woods never has faced a rival with this kind of potential.
He never has won at least three times in a year without being looked upon as the undisputed best player in golf.
For the first time in his quest to break Jack Nicklaus’ record in the majors, the biggest challenge for Woods is no longer overcoming a failed marriage, four knee surgeries, a tender Achilles tendon or even the fact that he’s simply getting older.
It’s another player.
McIlroy and Woods have played in the same tournament 12 times this year. McIlroy has finished ahead of Woods seven times, including wins at the Honda Classic and the PGA Championship. They tied for 40th at the Masters. McIlroy has seven top fives in those events, along with three missed cuts.
Woods won five majors in that span, including the career Grand Slam at age 24.
It’s about where they are now.
He is only 23, younger by some four months than when Woods won his second major, and he is doing things only thought possible by Woods. A record score at the U.S. Open last summer at Congressional. A record margin of victory at the PGA Championship on Sunday at Kiawah Island.
McIlroy has won two majors by a combined 16 shots.
But let’s see how this plays out.
Ultimately, that will be the measure.