Last year may not have brought us the promised Mayan apocalypse, but in 2013, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods will blot out parity.
After major victories in back-to-back years—and blowouts at that—the only question left for Rory is exactly how good he can become. Will he have a career like Seve Ballesteros’s or Nick Faldo’s, or will he challenge Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods for the title of greatest of all time? Nicklaus had it all—mind-blowing talent and balance in his life that gave him a 24-year major-winning career, but Rory enjoys advantages over the other two icons. He has more than a decade head start on Hogan in terms of winning majors, and unlike Woods, Rory doesn’t seem to be a tinkerer. It is unlikely that he’ll experiment with the fashionable swing theories that grow like bacteria in a petri dish on the PGA Tour. Of course it’s far too early to say anything for sure, but Rory is already the No. 1 player in the world, and there’s no better predictor of greatness than winning majors early and winning them by wide margins.
Tiger keeps insisting, LL Cool J–like, that we can’t call what he’s going through a comeback because he has been here all along, so we will oblige—until he wins his 15th major. Then it’s comeback city. Either way, Woods retains the power to fascinate like few others. I would love to see him play as he once did, with elegance, power, memorable shotmaking and the ability to close like a stalking feline. But these days his greatest moments seem to come early in tournaments, and he is increasingly defined by his weekend fades more than his fabulous finishes. Still, Tiger is a persistent man, rigid and goal-oriented, and the flickers of his former self were apparent in 2012’s Grand Slam events. A major win this year wouldn’t surprise anyone.
In 2013, golf is a two-man game, and for that we’re all winners.