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Rory McIlroy's hunger and Tiger Woods' driving improvements will keep them at top of world golf, says Rob Lee

Features Posted 16th January 2013 view comments

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods sit first and second respectively in the rankings and that shows how little there is between them.

I think Rory has the edge, not only in ranking but also because of his phenomenal 2012; the Ulsterman won four PGA Tour titles, which included an eight-stroke victory at the USPGA Championship, and the DP World Tour Championship on the European calendar.

McIlroy and Woods: the world's top two will battle it out in Abu Dhabi

McIlroy and Woods: the world's top two will battle it out in Abu Dhabi

Tiger, on the other hand, is a man on the comeback trail, which is amazing when you consider what he has achieved in the game.

But he is certainly on the up, as his three-win 2012 season proved; the 37-year-old seizing the Arnold Palmer, the Memorial and the AT&T National titles.

Woods and McIlroy, who will square off at this week's HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi, are both powerful men who hit the ball a long, long way, a vital trait if you want to dominate professional golf these days, while they are very adept around the greens, too.

Woods is now regularly adopting the fade shot and is finding the short grass more often.

Rob Lee
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I would say that Rory is a better driver of the ball and on courses where the rough is horrid - like it will be in Abu Dhabi - that gives him a bigger advantage over his American rival, who has never been the straightest driver in the world.

Tiger always views his game as a project, though, and not a closed book and he is trying to better his long game as he knows these miracle shots that get him out of trouble time and time again will eventually dry up.

Woods is now regularly adopting the fade shot and is finding the short grass more often, which coupled with his always-fantastic pitching and putting, could make a lethal tandem.

Consistency

Rory seemingly has every base covered, too, with the putting issues that may have let him down at the start of his career now a thing of the past, and his job now is to sustain such a high level of performance as that, in itself, would be an improvement.

The 23-year-old will probably look back at the middle of last year when he missed three successive cuts and do all he can to ensure that doesn't happen again - even though that can sometimes happen in golf.

And I'm sure his aim will be to find the consistency that Tiger enjoyed when he was at his peak - which saw him grind out results week after week and notch up 14 Majors - and eventually overhaul the great man.

Rory has achieved so much at an embryonic stage of his career but he still has so much more to accomplish, and I certainly don't think his game will tail off now that he will be earning mega money from a bumper new contract with sportswear giant Nike.

McIlroy had nothing to worry about monetarily before he put pen to paper on this deal, so I don't see how having a few more pounds in the bank will make any difference - though sadly I will never be in a position to find out!

Rory has spent his whole life chasing glory and that won't change.

Backyard

The McIlroy-Woods duel will be the main talking point this week, but there is a stellar field in Abu Dhabi and plenty of potential winners.

Jason Dufner has come over from America, Open champion Ernie Els is playing, and so are Justin Rose and an on-the-comeback Paul Casey, who won this event in both 2007 and 2009, but Martin Kaymer will feel like he is playing in his own backyard.

The German, who will partner Woods and McIlroy in the first two rounds, emerged victorious at Abu Dhabi in 2008, '10 and '11 and was in unbelievable from during the last of those triumphs; the world number 28 finished on 24-under par, eight shots clear of McIlroy, which is absolutely ludicrous.

Kaymer will really fancy his chances of going well again after he took the Nedbank Golf Challenge title at the back-end of last year, while it will be interesting to see how defending champion Robert Rock fares.

The Englishman hasn't really pushed on since his victory and currently sits 104th in the rankings, when he really should be in the top 50, and so he will be on a mission to prove that it wasn't a fluke when he overcame such a quality group of players 12 months ago.

ROB'S SKY BET TIPS

Martin Kaymer (9/1) at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Phil Mickelson (16/1) at the Humana Challenge

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