McIlroy no rival for Woods: Mahan

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the winner's trophy after becoming golf's new world...

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland holds up the winner's trophy after becoming golf's new world number one player at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, March 4, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 PM ET

With all the hyperbole surrounding new world No. 1 Rory McIlroy this week, someone had to remind the media that the young Northern Irishman's grip on that mantle may be tenuous.

That person? The same Hunter Mahan who rained on McIlroy's parade two weeks ago, doing his talking on the course in the final of the the most recent World Golf Championship event, the Accenture Match Play.

Heading into the WGC Cadillac Championship, Mahan reminded everyone that, hey, Rory's good, but a host of other players who will tee it up Thursday at Doral are, too.

When asked about a possible rivalry between Tiger Woods and the 22-year-old star, Mahan's allegiance seemed squarely in the corner of his American compatriot.

"Tiger doesn't have a rival," Mahan said. "Just look at the record. I mean, there is none. His rival is Jack Nicklaus (in Woods' quest for 18 majors). It's hard to put anyone up there right now with him."

And that is indisputable, when you look at the numbers.

The WGC field features six players who have held the world No. 1 ranking, and four of those -- Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and McIlroy -- have shared it over the past two years. Vijay Singh held the position for 32 weeks in 2004 and 2005, but Woods was No. 1 for 623 weeks, the equivalent of almost 12 years.

So forgive Mahan, ranked No. 10 in the world, for not buying into all the McIlroy hype just yet.

"I think the game of golf is in a good place," he said. "I think there's a lot of great players now. The difference between the No. 1 ranked player and, it seems the 20th and 30th ranked player, isn't that big anymore."

Now, Mahan wasn't picking on McIlroy and certainly gave him his due, saying his own win in the Match Play only "postponed the ceremonial No. 1 for (McIlroy)" and that it's great for golf that McIlroy is on top at such a young age. But he also made it clear that Woods' resurgence is just as, if not more, important.

"(Woods) creates a buzz like none other. Because he has 14 majors and 80 wins worldwide," Mahan said. "I mean, you know, Rory has had a pretty phenomenal career up to this point. When Tiger was 22, I don't know how many majors or tournaments he won, but he was far superior to Rory, which is crazy to think because Rory has been pretty awesome so far.

"You know, (Woods) moves the needle like no one in the game ... he was the first to kind of show that emotion on the course and to hit amazing shots and to say, you know, 'I'm out here to win tournaments and I'm not out here to make top-10s and have a good living. I want to do incredible things and I want to win more majors than Jack.'

"He set it out there and I'm sure, everybody was like, 'You're crazy, no one is ever going to beat Jack's record.' He's had a pretty good career so far, and he's got a lot more work to do but he just, you know, he moves the needle more than anyone else."

Master class

Everyone is so focused on the Masters, but that's a month away. This week at Doral is a chance to make a statement for the suddenly elite class in golf.

Woods and Phil Mickelson, the world's two best golfers over the past 15 years, are enjoying a resurgence. Mickelson was just named player of the month for February on the strength of his win at Pebble Beach and second-place showing at the Northern Trust. Woods' sizzling 62 Sunday and a couple of close calls, not to mention his six wins in this event, make him a favourite as well.

Then there is the trio of Brits -- McIlroy, Donald and Westwood -- each of whom can claim the No. 1 title again with a victory. McIlroy obviously is riding a high -- will all the attention be detrimental? -- Donald has struggled early this year and Westwood has played fairly well. The question is whether all these guys keep it going until the Master. If so, this will this week be a taste of what's in store.

For the record

Tiger Woods has pretty much ruled Doral, but who owns the course record?

Why, it's Calgary's Stephen Ames, who shot 61 on the Blue Monster in 2000 during the second round of the Doral-Ryder Open. He finished eighth.

Doral ranks in the middle of the pack as far as difficulty among PGA Tour courses, but the famous finishing hole, with a landing area as narrow as 25 yards off the tee, has been ranked as one of the most difficult 18th holes on tour (and was most difficult in 2004).

Canadian connection

Mahan mentioned that, in the past, he has had a tendency to get down on himself, taking the minutia of the game far too seriously.

It's something he said he has been working on, and that now having a family helps put things in perspective. He realizes that a missed put isn't the end of the world.

Along with his game, the mental aspect is something Mahan has been working on, and almost his entire team -- his agent, therapist and of course swing coach Sean Foley  -- is made up of Canadians. Another Canadian, sports psychologist Jim Murphy, has been helping Mahan with the getting out of his own head.

"I work with a guy (Murphy) who just has a very positive energy. He's (from) Vancouver ... Canada," Mahan said to laughter.

"I like Canadians for some reason. I don't know why. I'm surrounded by them."

tim.mckay@sunmedia.ca

@TimMcKayGolf

CHART

Player Weeks at No. 1

Tiger Woods 623

Luke Donald 40

Vijay Singh 32

Lee Westwood 22

Martin Kaymer 8

Rory McIlroy 1

On the Tee

World Golf Championships

Cadillac Championship

TPC Blue Monster at Doral (7,334 yards, par 72), Doral, Fla.

* A battle of the big boys, with new No. 1 Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

PGA Tour

Puerto Rico Open

Trump International Golf Club-Puerto Rico (7,506 yards, par 72), Rio Grande

* Canadians include Stephen Ames, Graham DeLaet, Richard H. Lee and Matt McQuillan.


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