Date: March 28, 2013
Author: Martin Blake / Golf Australia

Curtain up on Rory and Tiger show

As the golfing world probably expected, the 2013 season has become a Tiger Woods versus Rory McIlroy kind of year, although the script has not necessarily gone so predictably. Woods is back to No. 1 in the world rankings for the first time in three years after his eighth triumph at Arnold Palmer&aposs Bay Hill tournament, a remarkable comeback from the depths of a marriage break-up, worldwide embarrassment over scandal in his private life and a serious injury. The 14-time major winner had slumped as far down as No. 58 in the rankings, and his return to something approaching his very best golf impressed even McIlroy, who texted his friend on Monday congratulating him. Tiger is back in more ways than one. He has a new girlfriend, the downhill skier Lindsey Vonn, and his trash-talking ways and his familiar smile have returned. McIlroy, who is in Texas and about to play the Houston Open on the PGA Tour starting today, revealed that Woods&apos text reply was blunt. “Told me to get my finger out of my ass and win this week,&apos&apos the Irishman said. Woods and McIlroy have a strong rapport which has only been strengthened by the latter&aposs defection from Titleist equipment to join Woods at Nike, a deal that has caused great debate in the golfing world since the younger man has apparently lost his dominance of 2012 despite the fact that Nike has left his wallet bulging. Of course if McIlroy wins in Houston, he will regain the No. 1 mantle that he grabbed for the first time after the PGA Championship last year. But as Woods employs his remodelled putting stroke to brilliant effect, McIlroy has endured his own struggles at the start of the season. While Woods was winning at Bay Hill, McIlroy was watching his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play tennis in Key Biscayne, Florida, and hitting balls at a municipal links near Miami in casual clothes. All of this will unfold delectably at Augusta National in less than a fortnight when the Masters tournament, the year&aposs first major championship, is played, with Woods, a four-time winner of the green jacket, now the favourite. He has not won a major since 2008, a drought by his standards and a period that has called into question is ability to overtake Jack Nicklaus&apos all-time record of 18 majors. Woods is not playing this week, but Houston remains a highly significant tournament in the scheme of things because of its proximity to Augusta. Invitations to the Masters go the top 50 in the world rankings at the end of this week; quite a few players are in Houston trying to make sure that invitation is in the mail next week. Geoff Ogilvy, Australia&aposs top player of the past few years, is one of those. Ogilvy is ranked 50th in the world, right on the bubble for Augusta, and hence is at Houston trying to hold his place in the field for the first major. The Melburnian suffered a disappointing 2012 season but has shown a few signs in the early tournaments of 2013; he has moved his family from the San Diego area back to Scottsdale, Arizona, his original US base, in a bid to regain form. Scottsdale, the favoured home of many overseas players, is a convenient travel hub but also is blazingly hot in suffer. Ogilvy is 35 and with a wife and three young children, has other priorities in his life. But he is still driven to improve his golf before he drifts into a stronger role in the course design business he has formed with his friend Michael Clayton in Melbourne. His results this year have been better. Still, he is far below the natural world top 10 golf that he is capable of, a game that took him to the US Open championship at Winged Foot in 2006. Just two years ago Ogilvy almost won at Augusta — his final-round of 67 included birdies at the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes that saw him tie the lead and threatening to end Australia&aposs hoodoo at Augusta. Ultimately he would finish fourth as South African Charl Schwartzel&aposs incredible run of four closing birdies blew everyone away, but Ogilvy has the game and shot shape — a high, soaring draw — to succeed at the world famous Augusta. He just has to get into the field for Georgia first. There are four Australians already in the Masters field: Adam Scott and Jason Day, who also were in the mix in that blanket finish at Augusta in 2011, Marc Leishman and John Senden. Dual Australian Open champion Greg Chalmers (world ranking 61) is another who is going to Houston this week looking for a big finish that could potentially get him into the field for Augusta. As for Houston, it is one of the oldest tournaments on the PGA Tour roster and one of the best. There are a cluster of Australians in the field, including the likes of veterans Robert Allenby and Stuart Appleby trying to reclaim former glories. Allenby won this tournament in 2000 to kickstart his career; 13 years on he returns trying to find something he has lost. Such is the way of professional golf.