This is not the rivalry anyone had in mind when Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy began the year.

They made their debut in Abu Dhabi last month, and both missed the cut. The next time they played in the same tournament was last week in the Match Play Championship, and both were ousted in the first round at Dove Mountain (Ariz.).

The difference is that Woods returned to Torrey Pines the week after missing the cut. He left little reason for anyone to doubt his game when he built a lead that reached eight shots until the day dragged on, and he won by four for his 75th PGA Tour title.

McIlroy knew starting the year there would attention on his change from Titleist to Nike, and it only intensified with two bad results.

McIlroy, though, didn't sound worried at the Honda Classic, which begins the tour's Florida swing Thursday at Palm Beach Gardens.

"It's fine," he said. "I knew coming into (the year) it was going to be a bit of a process and I knew there was going to be comments if it didn't happen for me right away. I'm only two tournaments into the season. I've still 20 to go. So it's not like I'm in any rush."

Last year, McIlroy was runner-up in Abu Dhabi, tied for fifth in Dubai, lost in the final of the Match Play Championship and then won the Honda Classic, making one clutch par save after another to hold off Woods. McIlroy went to No. 1 by winning at PGA National, and he's been atop the world ranking since winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island (S.C.) in August.


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How much longer he stays there depends on his game -- and that of Woods, who is No. 2 and making up ground.

The Match Play Championship is the most unpredictable event in golf, and Woods is a great example of that. He is the only three-time winner, yet he has yet to make it out of the second round since his last win in 2008. Woods played bogey-free on a course that still had traces of snow and was beaten by Charles Howell III, who played even better.

"Generally if you're missing a cut, you're not playing that well," Woods said Wednesday after his pro-am round. "I actually played well, and only played one day. So I missed a few putts, but other than that, I really played well. Unfortunately, I ran into a guy who also played well -- better than I did."

McIlroy didn't look sharp at all when he was eliminated by Shane Lowry. His weakness was iron play, leaving several shots out to the right. So was it his swing or his new equipment? McIlroy suggested a little of both.

"It's still an adjustment period," he said. "It's going to be a gradual thing."

  • While the Match Play Championship was being decided Sunday, McIlroy and Woods decided to get together at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. "We thought we would put on our own match play final," McIlroy said with a laugh. McIlroy and Woods played 36 holes. "He beat me the first time, and I beat him in the second, so we're even," McIlroy said.

  • Ai Miyazato withdrew from the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore as a precaution after she was hurt in an auto accident. She said she still had stiffness in her neck, shoulder and back, "but it's also a precautionary measure so as not to risk further injury." The LPGA Tour said Paula Creamer, Suzann Pettersen and Miyazato were involved in a five-vehicle crash in Thailand on Sunday. Creamer told a pretournament news conference she had "pretty bad whiplash from hitting the headrest, but I took it easy and I hope I can tee it up" when the tournament starts Thursday.

    MCT Information Services contributed to this report.