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Woods, McIlroy stoke rivalry as golf season begins

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 12:18 a.m.
REUTERS
Rory McIlroy (right) and Tiger Woods conduct an interview before before the start of this week's Abu Dhabi Golf Championships on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The world's top golfers meet more often on the course, but neither No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy nor Tiger Woods are ready to call it a rivalry.

They're paired together for the first two rounds of Abu Dhabi Golf Championship starting Thursday. They've established a friendly relationship since playing together for the first three rounds of last year's tournament.

For a more heated rivalry to emerge, they both agreed they need to face each other Sunday with a tournament at stake. It has yet to happen, although Woods did make a run at McIlroy in last year's Honda Classic with a birdie-eagle finish.

“It would be similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil (Mickelson) two years into my career. That wasn't the case. It takes time,” Woods said Tuesday.

“Over the course of my career, I've gone head-to-head against Ernie (Els) and Vijay (Singh) the most and that has happened over 17 years,” he said. “But it takes time. Certainly we've done it once at Honda. ... But we really haven't had the amount of matches or head-to-head duels with Phil and Vijay and Ernie. But then again, it's only been a few years. Let's give it time and see how it pans out.”

McIlroy agreed.

“I don't know if you can call it a rivalry yet because we haven't battled each other down the stretch of a major,” McIlroy said. “It's not like we have been playing in the final group of a tournament and we are battling each other. Hopefully at some point that can happen this year and it would be great to be part of that.”

Woods and McIlroy will pair off again this week.

“We've certainly hit it off, and our relationship has grown and our friendship's gotten better,” Woods said. “We've just had a good time. Certainly give each other the needle quite a bit. That's always fun.”

McIlroy said the relationship in many ways is built on mutual respect.

“Before this time last year, we would say hello in passing but not really anything else. I think once Tiger sort of gets to know you and trusts you, I guess, and lets you in, then it's great,” McIlroy said.

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