McIlroy hopes to have the opportunity to battle Tiger on Sunday at a major in 2012.
Vincent Yu / AP
By Paul Mahoney
Tuesday, December 06, 2011

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - December. Such a boring month for golf. Nothing to report. Move along. Well, apart from Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood all winning on last weekend's Super Sunday.

McIlroy has looked drained in Dubai after jetting in from Hong Kong after a marathon 12 weeks on the road. He has had blood tests to discover the extent of a virus that has drained his energy. But fatigue didn't curtail the vigor of his yelling or air punching as he sealed his victory in Hong Kong with an outrageous dunk from a bunker on 18.

"I went nuts," he said, smiling. "I've never been that excited or animated on a golf course before. It shows you how much it meant to me."

Remind you of anyone else last Sunday? The air punch seems to be back in fashion, and Woods pulled out his own wide-mouthed uppercut version (copyright, Augusta 1997) as he birdied the final hole to win the Chevron World Challenge in Southern California.

"Great to see Tiger back," McIlroy said. "It looks like his game is really getting back in shape. You saw by his reaction on 18 how much that meant to him."

All of which sets up a mouth-watering 2012 with the prospect of Woods, the veteran heavyweight champion, returning to the ring with something to prove to the young contenders intent on stealing his crown. Of course the kids have no fear of the old man (Woods is all of 35) and are bobbing and weaving, looking to land that knockout punch. McIlroy can't wait for the challenge, to finally test his game against perhaps the finest golfer that ever put club to ball.

"You want to test yourself against the best," McIlroy said. "And if you where to come up against Tiger on Sunday, it would probably be the biggest challenge of my career. It's something I would look forward to. It would be a huge experience and learning curve to see how I would handle it. It's not something a lot of players in my generation have experienced yet. It would be great to have the opportunity to do it next year."

Augusta in April would seem the perfect venue. Or how about Tucson, Ariz., in the final of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play in February? Or, better still, Abu Dhabi, where Woods will play his first event of the year in January.

The third high-profile champion last weekend was Westwood, No. 3 in the world, who shot a course record 62 in the third round on his way to victory in South Africa. Westwood's victory almost got lost in all the hoopla, but McIlroy was paying attention.

"It looks like next year is going to be exciting with a lot of players playing well," McIlroy said. "I'm just happy to be in that group and have a chance to go and win more tournaments and hopefully win majors as well."

McIlroy knows that next year and, more pressingly, this week, he probably won't enjoy an easy coronation like the one he had at the U.S. Open at Congressional last June.

"You've got Luke [Donald] coming off his best season ever," McIlroy said. "Lee looks like he is starting to play better again. Martin Kaymer won in China a couple of weeks ago. You've got the top four guys in the world all here, and all seem to be on form."

The Dubai World Championship will pit McIlroy against Donald - relative lightweights in boxing terms but undisputed heavyweight golfers. The Northern Irishman needs to win and see the Englishman finish outside the top nine to clinch the Race to Dubai, the European Tour's money-list title. Anything less, and Donald will become the first player to win the money list on both sides of the Atlantic. The two will go head-to-head in the final group on Thursday.

It feels like a dress rehearsal for the major performances of next year except for the absence of Woods, who will be desperate to step out of the wings to reclaim his status as the leading man.



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