World waits for Rory McIlroy v Rickie Fowler


Sawgrass Country Club

With apologies to Mr Shakespeare, all the world's a stage and we are merely at The Players – not the fifth major, as the PGA Tour would have the world believe, but nevertheless an elite championship in Florida with a $9.5m (£6m) purse and a first prize of $1.71m.

When the 144 players tee off tomorrow at Sawgrass, the course with that panic-inducing island green on the 17th, all eyes will once again fall on Tiger Woods as yet another chapter of his never-ending circus is uncovered. Is he back (see victory at Bay Hill in March)? Or is he yesterday's man (see failure at the Masters and a missed cut last week in South Carolina)?

Woods is not too many more poor performances and temper tantrums away from becoming a sideshow rather than the main act. As the field assembled here, there was no doubt the buzz was not about the 36-year-old former world No 1 but the 23-year-old current world No 1 and his latest flamboyant rival.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy has been the flag carrier for a new generation of post-Tiger stars. He now has company. Last weekend, 23-year-old Rickie Fowler finally delivered on his potential and hype to beat McIlroy in a play-off at Wells Fargo Championship and emerge as the long-awaited poster boy for American golf.

You can hardly miss Fowler. He's the one dressed like an escaped convict attempting to make orange the new Sunday red (copyrighted by Tiger at the Masters in 1997). The world seemingly waited an age to fail to find a genuine competitor for Tiger. Now the hope is that McIlroy and Fowler will forge a new rivalry. Tiger's continuing to tie himself in mental and physical knots simply emphasises the fact that, for McIlroy and Fowler, the future is now.

"With Tiger not playing his best it has spread the spotlight and helps Rickie and I to stand out a little bit more," McIlroy said. "It's been a good thing for us." It looks like it will be an amicable rivalry, too, as they struck up a friendship in their amateur days. "I developed a really good relationship with him at the Walker Cup in 2007," McIlroy said. "I felt like he was the best player on that [United States] team and also the nicest guy."

As for Woods, Nick Faldo said yesterday that he believes he has lost his self-belief. Not usually shy in straight-batting such criticism with silence and a death stare, Woods for once went on the verbal offensive when informed of Faldo's wisdom. But this time Woods shared his often rumoured but rarely displayed sense of humour. "I always find it interesting since they're not in my head. They must have some kind of superpower I don't know about," he said to much laughter.

But Woods being Woods, the death stare wasn't too far away. "I've always had a coach," was his twice-repeated reply when asked if he ever had thoughts of dispensing with swing coaches and flying solo to see if he, on his own, can rediscover his golfing mojo. Is there any joy in the toil of working hard to find a way forward? "A joy? No, I don't enjoy missing cuts," was his succinct response.

This time last year Woods limped out of the championship after shooting a front nine six-over par 42 in the first round. He's physically fit this year but he's still limping mentally and technically as he fights to regain his confidence and strives to find consistency in the changes that his swing guru, Sean Foley, is honing. Woods arrived here on the back of a missed cut last week in South Carolina. It was only the eighth time he has failed to make the weekend's play since he joined the professional ranks in 1996. It is a statistic that illustrates just how good he is – or was.

Inevitably, he was asked about the new names at the top of the world rankings."Do I think it's good for the game? I liked it better when I was up there," Woods said. "That's just me. Sorry."

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine