Even without Tiger Woods winning a major, 2012 was a spectacular year in golf. There was an epic comeback by Europe in the Ryder Cup, Bubba Watson's inspired recovery shot at the Masters and Rory McIlroy's runaway in the PGA Championship at brutal Kiawah Island and his capture of the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic. And there's no forgetting Adam Scott's collapse and Ernie Els' return to glory at the British Open or Woods' brilliant flop shot at the Memorial in a season in which he won tournaments hosted by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and himself.
What can 2013 do for an encore?
How about a season with a few memorable duels between McIlroy and Woods -- the sport's most compelling duo since Arnie and Jack -- who enter the year ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively?
The PGA Tour got under way two weeks ago in Hawaii, but the real start of the golf season happens Thursday when Woods and McIlroy tee off in Abu Dhabi. With a clear sense of what matters in the sport, the European Tour has paired them up for the first two rounds. Golf fans are hoping they're together in the final twosome Sunday.
All that last year lacked was a true duel between Woods and McIlroy. Woods was lights out (62) in the final round of the Honda, but teeing off later, all McIlroy needed to do was hold serve (69) to beat Woods by two shots. In the Deutsche Bank and BMW, where McIlroy beat Woods by two and three shots, respectively, back-nine duels never materialized because McIlroy was so finely tuned and Woods couldn't make enough birdie putts to run him down.
"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 told reporters Wednesday. "Hopefully at some point that can happen this year."
While they might not be rivals yet, sports apparel giant Nike has pitted them as such in a brilliant commercial in which they match each other shot-for-shot at a driving range and trade amusing barbs.
The hope for golf in 2013 is that they find themselves in actual competition at places such as Augusta, Merion and Muirfield.
- Kevin Dunleavy