Tiger Woods at last beaten by Rory McIlroy. Is his popularity on the wane? - Hindustan Times

Tiger Woods at last beaten by Rory McIlroy. Is his popularity on the wane? Not really

Nov 29, 2023 05:07 PM IST

Rory McIlroy has made some interesting news two days before Tiger Woods' much-awaited return to golf.

Two days before Tiger Woods’ return to professional golf, the inevitable has happened. Rory McIlroy has left the legendary golfer behind in the Player Impact Program (PIP) introduced in 2021 by the PGA Tour to reward golfers who do the sport a lot of good in terms of generating interest in the media. The reward is astronomical for the top spot, to the tune of $15m.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods after they completed a practice round prior to the 2023 Masters Tournament(Getty)
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods after they completed a practice round prior to the 2023 Masters Tournament(Getty)

McIlroy getting ahead of Woods had to happen. The American has played very little professional golf since his car crash in early 2021. Since the unfortunate incident, he has played in just five PGA Tour events and while he has made the cut four times, only twice he has been able to complete all four rounds. Despite that when it comes to the PIP, Woods has reigned supreme in 2021 as well as 2022 but at some point, somebody had to race ahead.

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Woods has played in just two competitive tournaments this year. First was the Genesis Open where he finished T45 after a lay-off of several months. And then weeks later the Masters came along where he pulled out in the third round on account of heel injury. He has not been seen in action since. McIlroy, on the other hand, has had a fantastic year. He won the Dubai Desert Classic and the Scottish Open and performed admirably in three of the year’s four majors. After a shock exit at the Masters, the Northern Irishman registered tied seventh, second and tied sixth positions at the PGA Championship, US Open and the Open respectively. He narrowly missed out on the US Open title as Wyndham Clark won his first major by one stroke.

McIlroy’s achievements don’t just end at that. He also played a pivotal role in Team Europe’s Ryder Cup triumph in Rome. At the event, he featured in all five sessions across three days and won four points for his team out of a possible five and helped the hosts see off the American team 16.5-11.5. He had a horrible run-in with Patrick Cantlay’s caddie Joe LaCava that had pushed his brilliant performance into the background for a few days in terms of media coverage. And then earlier this month, he sealed his fifth DP World Tour Race to Dubai title.

Despite not being in action for a very large part of the year, it would be wrong to say that Woods has not generated much media interest this year. Following the surgery after the Masters, the media has kept track of his recovery developments, speculating a lot about when he could return. His outings with his very talented son Charlie Woods has brought him a lot of attention. His and McIlroy’s technology-fuelled indoor league, the TGL that was postponed to 2025 earlier this month after a major mishap at the designated venue also kept him in the public eye.

Woods is a 15-time major winner, second best in the all-time list, and has been the most influential figure in the sport in the last three decades. His popularity is not going to crash just like that. It is still good enough to bring him $12m from the PIP for his second-place finish. He has finished ahead of some of the top golfers on the planet like world number one Scottie Scheffler, 2023 Masters winner John Rahm, FedEx Cup play-off winner Viktor Hovland, 2023 Open champion Brian Harman and Clark. How many sportspersons can stay relevant despite featuring in just five events in around three years?!

On Thursday, the 82-time PGA Tour winner is returning to competitive action for the first time since April. The event is Hero World Challenge at Albany in the Bahamas. Woods is the host of the competition and will be part of the 20-player field that features some of the top names of the golfing firmament. Rest assured the spotlight will be completely on the 47-year-old over those four days. McIlroy may have done well this year in line with the PIP’s requirements but during the course of the Hero World Challenge he is unlikely to be much in the news, especially since he is not part of the invitational event. The truth of the matter is when Woods is on the course as a player, there is no one in the golfing world who can match his appeal at present.

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