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Same questions, but for a different player
“I had a few goals starting off this year,” he said in Dubai. “Obviously, I wanted to win a major. I think I wanted to win four times around the world _ five. The Race to Dubai _ I won. I guess getting to world No. 1, which I achieved earlier in the year. But I guess every goal that I set for myself at the start of 2012, I’ve achieved this year. So it doesn’t really get much better than that.”
“I guess the same,” McIlroy said. “To be focused on the majors, try to win more of those. I’ve won one in `11, one in `12. It would be nice to keep that run going next year.”
If he were to win a major next year, McIlroy would join Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players since 1960 to win a major championship in three successive years.
“I feel like I can improve in different areas of the game still,” McIlroy said. “I guess that’s the challenge and the fun of practice is trying to get better all the time.”
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was learning to win without his best stuff, another trait that defines Woods‘ greatness. McIlroy at least was savvy enough not to say that he won with his “C” game. Woods stopped grading himself after catching grief for saying that in Dallas in 1997.
The 1999 season was similar to this year when it came to a potential rivalry. Going into the final major of that season, Woods was No. 2 in the world behind David Duval. Woods had won three times that year, second in tour victories to Duval. Woods wound up winning the PGA Championship at Medinah, and then he closed out the season by winning four straight tournaments _ Firestone, Disney, the Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship in Spain.
Duval was a forgotten figure by the end of the season.
Woods found another gear _ closer to warp speed _ in 2000 by winning 10 times around the world, including three straight majors. There hasn’t been another season like that since then, and there might not be. But imagine how McIlroy will be looked upon if he were to win multiple majors next year. If he wins both money titles again. If he builds such a gap at No. 1 in the world ranking that players can only hope he decides to change his swing.
Perhaps the more intriguing aspect is how Woods responds.
Woods can measure progress this year not only by three wins, but by playing his biggest schedule since 2009. The World Challenge, which he has won five times as the tournament host, is his 24th week of competition (including the Ryder Cup and the exhibition in Turkey).
And as much as Woods likes McIlroy as a person _ who doesn’t? _ and talks about the importance of at least being in the conversation when it comes to the best in golf, he has never faced a challenge like this. Vijay Singh had a better season than McIlroy in 2004 when the Fijian won nine times, but he was in his early 40s then.
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