Tiger roars back for US PGA, can he stop the rise of McIroy?
Woods recovers from back injury to tee off at Valhalla, but Rory remains the big draw
Tiger Woods obviously agrees with Rory McIlroy that talk of a new golfing era, dominated by the Northern Irishman, is premature. For the 38-year-old veteran has declared himself fit for the US PGA championship, days after his career appeared to be hanging in the balance.
As McIlroy romped to victory in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last weekend there was something symbolic about the image of Woods hobbling away from the course as his longstanding back problems returned.
Rarely has there been a "sadder sporting sight" than that of Woods, once the "greatest golfer of his generation", limping away from Firestone like "an 80-year old man crippled by arthritis", said Derek Lawrenson in the Daily Mail.
Bent-double with pain, and just four months on from the surgery that was supposed to rescue his career, Woods required a steward's buggy to shuttle him from the course on Sunday.
In the aftermath of his withdrawal it was taken as read that he would miss the US PGA championship and many assumed that his season and possibly even his career were over. Talk turned to the dawn of a new era for men's golf.
But first McIlroy distanced himself from such notions, and now, astonishingly, Woods is back and will tee off at Valhalla today after a practise round in which "he showed no signs of discomfort", according to ESPN. Perhaps the doubters should have known better. After all, the comeback has become the defining characteristic of Tiger's career.
Woods "loves playing the hero and adores the thought of his body taking him to places mere mortals cannot reach", says The Guardian's Ewan Murray. For him "the concept of winning the PGA Championship against all odds and having battled back from injury will trigger mental somersaults".
Woods, who plays alongside Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington for his first two rounds, returns to Valhalla as a defending champion of sorts, having triumphed at the venue last time it hosted the US PGA in 2000.
Fourteen years on, the world number ten requires a repeat performance if he wishes to qualify for the final round of this year's FedEx Cup and secure a coveted place among Tom Watson's Ryder Cup picks.
Yet "for all Woods may dream" of rescuing a dismal season at Valhalla, "there is no legitimate case for him prevailing on Sunday afternoon", says Murray.
His game's been ragged in the three events he's played since surgery, and the course has changed "beyond all recognition" since he overcame Bob May in a play-off for the Wanamaker trophy all those years ago.
But while Woods is expected to take on the role of rank-outsider this week, there's one player whose presence at the business-end of the leader board is all but assured: Rory McIlroy.
The newly anointed world number one is tipped to secure his second US PGA this week, arriving in Kentucky in red-hot form courtesy of successive wins in his last two tournaments – the British Open and the Bridgestone Invitational.
Three wins on the trot would only fuel talk of the "McIlroy era", but it's not something he believes in.
"Sometimes I feel people are too quick to jump to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon", said the Open champion earlier this week. "I've had a great run and I've played well over the last few months. It's just nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel like I should be, which is near the top of rankings, and competing in majors and winning tournaments."
"I'm not necessarily sure you can call that an era or the start of an era but I'm happy with my game is at the minute and I want to try and continue that for as long as possible." ·