Golf's main event now is Rory McIlroy vs. Jordan Spieth, with Tiger on the undercard
The main event in golf no longer includes Tiger Woods, who has been consigned to the undercard, even with the attention he'll command at Augusta National this week.
The stage now belongs to Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, the latter producing further evidence at the Shell Houston Open that he belongs there.
Spieth did not win; he tied for second, losing to J.B. Holmes in a playoff that also included Johnson Wagner. But it continued a roll — our word, not his — that began with his victory in the Australian Open at the end of November and is now entering its fourth month with no indication that it will stop any time soon.
McIlroy was among those Spieth defeated in Australia by shooting a final-round 63. He then won the Hero World Challenge by 10 shots in December and in his last three PGA Tour starts has finished first, second and tied for second.
"That round of golf [in Australia] has done more for me than I could have imagined at the time," Spieth said. "Since then, it's been called a run. People ask me, is this a run that you're on?' I don't really like that. I don't really like calling it that because that would mean that normal would be anything less than where I'm at and I expect myself to be playing like this."
McIlroy, meanwhile, is ranked No. 1 in the world and is only a Masters victory short of completing the career grand slam. He is a betting favorite this week (6 to 1), but in a matchup with Spieth (8 to 1), backing McIlroy would seem a dubious proposition.
It was unsettling to read last week that McIlroy, only 25, already has lost some of the zest he has for the game. "I would be dishonest if I said my love of golf now is as big as it was," he said. "I don't love golf as much as when it was just pure joy to get on to the course to play. When I was a kid, if I spent a day away from the game, I couldn't wait to get back. Now I can't wait for a week off."
Conversely, Spieth has the aura of one who can't wait to hit his next shot, certain that it will be better than the last one. That, incidentally, is the direction he has been trending in advance of the Masters.
"I feel as prepared as I think I could be [for the Masters]," he said. "I feel more and more comfortable with more and more pressure, and that gives me a lot of confidence going into Augusta where you probably have the most pressure anywhere."
McIlroy's quest and a surging Spieth is the inducement necessary to pique interest. Throw in the curiosity factor with Woods and, well, as the ring announcer famously says, let's get ready to rumble.