Ever since Rory McIlroy bounced back from his meltdown at last year’s US Masters with his awesome masterclass to win the US Open, the world of golf has been waiting for the newly crowned World No.1 to come up against a Tiger Woods back to his winning ways.

Woods, having overcome the demons that threatened to end his glory days,  believes he is back to the form that saw him hold all four majors after winning at the Masters in 2001. “I am excited, there’s no doubt. It’s always fun to get there and play and I’m looking forward to the momentum I’ve built up here.” was Tiger’s pre-Masters battlecry after blowing away his opposition at the Bay Hill Invitational last weekend.

McIlroy, the new king of golf, who at just 22 is America’s adopted icon from Ireland and has been hailed as the new Tiger Woods during the past year, is wisely keen to deflect talk of a gladiatorial showdown. Not that anyone is taking any notice of McIlroy’s unconvincing attempt to play down the rivalry.

“You have to remember there’s 80 plus players in this field,” he said. “It’s nice to be getting all this praise but you have to take it with a pinch of salt. I don’t have the achievements that Tiger has, but I’m looking forward to getting in contention and maybe coming up against maybe the best player ever.”

Lee Westwood, who went close to winning the Masters at Augusta in 2010, was at pains to  point out: “Rory hasn’t won here. Tiger hasn’t won since 2005.”

But that does not change the fact the Tiger v Rory is “the only story in golf” as Sports Illustrated declared with the headline that said what most followers of sport are thinking.

In case anyone is in any doubt that the man who finished fourth in both 2010 and 2011, despite the distraction of his marriage break-up,  is out to topple No.1 McIlroy and the rest of the field he has made his focus absolutely clear. “I’m here for the green jacket,” said Woods, who is of chasing his fifth Masters win.

– BY JOHN GUBBA

UPDATE: And the winner is . . .

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