Is The Woods-McIlroy Rivalry The New Palmer-Nicklaus?

September 7, 2012

There’s lots of talk on the inter-tubes about the growing Woods-McIlroy rivalry. Much of that is, I think, desperation on the part of the media who need something to write about. But perusing the articles, it occurred to me that the budding Woods-McIlroy rivalry looks like nothing less than the Palmer-Nicklaus rivalry of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Palmer was golf’s superstar in the late 1950s and 1960s, eclipsing a previous generation that included giants like Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. His dominance—though not his popularity—faded, however, when the young upstart Jack Nicklaus won the 1962 US Open at Oakmont. While Arnold still held his Army and the media in sway, things were never the same after that. Nicklaus would go on to become the game’s greatest player—perhaps ever.

So how about those comparisons?

As with Palmer, Woods—the dominant player of his generation—is the media superstar in spite of growing evidence that his time has passed. Woods is 36, thirteen years older than McIlroy. Palmer was roughly years older than Nicklaus. Like Nicklaus, McIlroy is poised to do things that his older rival did not. McIlroy has two majors at a younger age than Tiger—something no one ever thought we’d see.

The bad news for Woods is that Nicklaus quickly eclipsed his older rival. Palmer did not win a major after 1964—three years after Nicklaus turned pro.

Rory has been a pro for five years, and Woods currently has not won a Major in four years.

The more I think on this one, the more it looks like deja vu all over again.

Posted By The Original Golf Blogger

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  • Yes I agree I don’t think it’s a rivalry just a media beat up. I see players such as Louis Oosthuizen, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Jason Day being more rivals for Rory in the coming years.

    Though I do believe there’s plenty of good golf left in Tiger in the coming years. The main thing is he has to stay healthy.

    Posted by Troy Vayanos on 09/08

  • I think it is early to compare McIlroy to Nicklaus. 

    I tend to think that, for now, Woods/Rory is like Nicklaus/Seve or Nicklaus/Watson

    Posted by Martin on 09/09

  • Been reading this blog for years. Possibly the most interesting article that I’ve seen on here. Fascinating.

    Posted by Drew on 09/09

  • So now that Rory has another win, does anything think the Woods-McIlroy v Palmer-Nicklaus is getting closer to the mark??

    Posted by The Original Golf Blogger on 09/09

  • My concern about comparing McIlroy to Nicklaus is that perhaps you can say that about 1963 Nicklaus, from what the perspective was in 1963—but when you say Jack Nicklaus now, it means the greatest golfer ever, with three decades of wins, and a full two decades of dominance. 

    I think that is a lot of pressure and expectation to put on Rory.

    That is not to say that Rory isn’t rightly the #1 golfer in the world right now, and he isn’t showing shades of Tiger like dominance at times.  But he has two majors, and 4 wins this year, lets get a couple more majors and eight more wins or so before we subject him to a Nicklaus comparison.

    BTW- what is really in my craw right now is the possibility, however remote, that Rory can win back to back weeks in FedEx Cup playoff events, can win a major, and he could still NOT win the FedEx Cup.  Get ready for another controversy if that happens.  I think most likely Rory will place in the top 10 or whatever he needs to do to win, heck, he could win again in Atlanta, but that would be just crazy. 

    I guess if he does win in two weeks, maybe ask that Nicklaus question again.  (he’d still be too young, but seriously 3 events in a row?  4 wins in 28 days?  Crazy.

    Posted by martin on 09/09

  • 3 wins (in 4 starts) in 28 days. Correction.

    Posted by martin on 09/09

  • I am indeed thinking mostly about the young Jack, before legendary status. That said, I believe that Rory will ultimately be a member of the pantheon. Perhaps not Zeus, but certainly one of the major deities.

    Posted by The Original Golf Blogger on 09/10

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