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Three's a Crowd at the Top of the Game

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Even if you have little interest in golf, you have probably come across two of the most famous players who are constantly in the spotlight. Tiger Woods - the former world number one who fell from grace following a scandalous exposure into his private life, and Rory McIlroy - the young starlet from Northern Ireland who shot to fame after claiming his first major championship last year. You probably know who I'm taking about.

Since he came onto the scene after turning professional in 1996, Woods has constantly been the focus of media attention. A remarkable player of astonishing talent, he may well be the most gifted golfer who has ever lived, though that debate is probably best saved for a different article. The fact is, a few years ago it was hard to imagine someone else taking the place of Tiger Woods, a player who was classed as untouchable, insatiable, even. But fast forward a few years and, abracadabra, that's all changed. Now the focus is on the young chap from the little town of Holywood, a talent who was first seen chipping golf balls into a washing machine at the tender age of nine. Luckily his parents took note and some fourteen years later, he is currently the world's number one golfer.

Given the choice of pasting Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy on the front cover of a golf publication, one suspects that McIlroy would be the first choice. Sure, it may be nice to publish a few quotes from the 14-time major champion, but it's likely to be Rory who will grace the first pages. But that said, you would probably be interested in hearing of a joint interview between the two most influential players. That, any golf fan would like to hear.

Talking of their strong friendship on American TV channel CNN, McIlroy spoke of his admiration for Woods, someone who he had watched growing up and one day dreamt of playing against. Similarly, Woods spoke of McIlroy's remarkable talent and of his promising future in the game. Reflecting back on his year, Rory concluded that he had done rather well in 2012. Despite a brief slum in his form during the summer, (something I witnessed first-hand during the BMW Championship at Wentworth where he uncharacteristically missed the cut), McIlroy still managed to secure his second major championship at the US PGA Championship in August. In addition, he has climbed back up to the number one spot, and was recently named as the highest money earner on both the European and US tours - not bad at the age of twenty-three.

Question is, where does he go from here? The answer is he's worried. Worried that he will fall out of love with the game by the time he's in his mid-thirties, but also probably more worried that his form could slip well before then. However, with Woods by his side, both players acknowledged that the only way forwards was to be better and fitter than the rest of the field. Intensive gym sessions and endless practice had ensured their success thus far; though both recognise that there are plenty of other players in the game who are also doing just that.

Asked if he feared he would not beat Jack Nicklaus's career record of 18 major championships, Woods stated that this isn't a concern just yet. He believes this is still more than possible, and hinted that he will be playing professional golf for many more years to come. Despite the rarity of a joint interview between two of the most renowned players who speak of their friendship and mutual respect, I suspect that relations may not be quite so friendly behind closed doors.