- Associated Press - Thursday, March 8, 2012

DORAL, FLA. (AP) - Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods already have been linked twice this year.

There was that practice round together in Abu Dhabi, and being in the same group for the opening two rounds. Then, they shared the stage at PGA National, where McIlroy played the lead role at the Honda Classic by answering a late charge from Woods to win the tournament and go to No. 1 in the world.

Look back to the summer of 2010, when McIlroy said he would “love to face” Woods in the Ryder Cup. That comment was made as Woods was at the low point in his game, and the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland did add, “Unless his game improves.”

Is it too early for a rivalry?

Hunter Mahan believes it is, only because he thinks Woods‘ biggest rival is retired.

“His rival is Jack Nicklaus,” Mahan said. “It’s hard to put anyone up there right now with him. I understand his last few years haven’t been his best and everything that’s going on, but that guy, he’s had numbers that no one has even thought about reaching.”

There’s some truth to that.

McIlroy reached No. 1 in the world after 115 tournaments that count toward the ranking. Woods played 21 tournaments before he first reached the top of the world ranking.

What they have in common is raw talent, the ability to control the golf ball like few others, a passion to compete and winning majors in record fashion at an early age. Woods was 21 when he set the Masters record at 270 and won by 12 shots. McIlroy had just turned 22 when he shot a 268 _ breaking the U.S. Open record by four shots _ to win at Congressional.

Woods is 36, although rivalries never have been about age.

Nicklaus was 10 years younger than Arnold Palmer, and 10 years older than Tom Watson.

Sometimes it can be about going head-to-head _ Greg Norman and Nick Faldo come to mind _ though mostly it’s about taking turns winning tournaments, and winning majors.

McIlroy still has a ways to go. Besides, he’s not interested in rivalries at the moment.

“I’m going to let other people make the comparisons,” McIlroy said. “I’m not going to try and compare myself to anyone else. I’ve never said that I want to be the next anyone. I just want to be the first Rory McIlroy, however good that turns out to be. Then, I’ll try my best to win tournaments and to win majors and to be the best player in the world.

“There’s still a long road ahead, and I feel like I can accomplish a lot more.”

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