In normal circumstances, Tuesday and Wednesday of tournament week in San Diego would be almost all about Tiger Woods as he prepares to tee it up at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Phil Mickelson, by making comments as he did Sunday about considering "drastic changes" in light of California's new, more punitive tax laws on high-income earners ensures that at least some of the spotlight will be taken off Woods -- even with Mickelson's apology on Tuesday.
Ah, the PGA Tour.
Team sports have to fight the public-relations nightmare of athletes and their drunken nightclub fracases; golfers land themselves in a spot of bother because they are annoyed they have to pay more tax. But as the event that typically marks the beginning of Woods's U.S. schedule every year gets set to go Thursday, there is a more subtle reality that has now taken hold in the world of golf and it has nothing to do with marginal tax rates: Tiger is no longer the undisputed king of his domain.
As the world rankings go, we've known that for a while now. Injuries, upheaval in his personal life and the emergence of Rory McIlroy have all combined to form what, before 2009, would have been unthinkable; that Woods isn't necessarily the favourite before every tournament and is even less so heading into the majors.
Heck, Woods isn't even the lone star in Nike's show anymore.
McIlroy is now his co-star and events last week in Abu Dhabi only proved the point further, when it was announced Nike had signed McIlroy to a deal reported to be worth $100 million over five years (imagine the withholding tax on that one).
Moreover, the multi-platform rollout of the world's No. 1 as a Nike client clearly had Woods's blessing and co-operation. By participating in the campaign, it's clear that Woods has no problem with sharing the stage and it can even be called admirable that the now 37-year-old doesn't mind it.
Imagine, say, a 29-year-old Woods splitting the stage with Mickelson? Doubtful.
Nike executives in particular and the golf world in general would have loved for the two swoosh stablemates to battle head-to-head in last Sunday's final round of the Abu Dhabi Championship, but both missed the cut on Friday.
Woods putted well, but struck the ball poorly and was ultimately undone by a two-stroke penalty for taking an improper drop in the second round. Had he somehow squeezed inside the cutline, Woods may have challenged eventual champion Jamie Donaldson, but we'll never know. For Woods, it was his first missed cut in regular European Tour play.
McIlroy's bad form could be put down to adjusting to new equipment. Whatever the case, and aside from the 12-major lead that Woods has over him, McIlroy's tendency to play poorly for stretches is probably the single biggest factor that separated Woods at a similar age. McIlroy's occasional inconsistency may soon send chills down the collective spines of those at Nike.
Comparing and contrasting Woods and McIlroy, both now but also when Woods was younger, most observers generally conclude that they are about equal in talent. In piling up 14 majors, Woods's practice routine and commitment to getting better were as impressive as the natural ability he brought to the course, not to mention a willingness to change and adapt his swing.
Perhaps it's unfair, but McIlroy has raised a few eyebrows for checking out a bit -- a perception that is largely fostered by his relationship with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Yet McIlroy's inconsistency, relative to Woods at a similar age, could be nothing more than his more onerous travel and playing schedule, a common ailment for European-based players and something he has tried to arrest by moving full-time to the U.S. late last year.
Any tangible benefit from switching his home base from his hometown near Belfast, Northern Ireland, if there is any, should become more obvious for McIlroy around the same time as he gets used to his new gear. That time is expected to come in April, in time for the Masters.
McIlroy, comfortable with his living arrangements and with his new equipment, is a scary thought.
The fact that Woods, now almost six years removed from his last major championship, apparently isn't so frightened is just as telling.
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