Ryder Cup: Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler set for showdown
Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler have been on a collision course all year.
So, when US skipper Corey Pavin handed Fowler a wild card for next month's Ryder Cup, he set in motion a train of events which could lead to the showdown of the century between these two young tigers on the Sunday at Celtic Manor.
Unlike the thoroughly modern Presidents Cup, the draw for the 12 singles matches at the Ryder Cup isn't rigged, so we must rely on fate to deliver the chance of a definitive answer to the question on many lips - who is better, Europe's hottest prospect, McIlroy, or Fowler, the fastest-rising star in American golf?
Fittingly, they are the only two PGA Tour rookies to make it into the 70-man field for this week's BMW Championship, the penultimate FedEx Cup play-off at Cog Hill in Chicago.
On this side of the pond, McIlroy's phenomenal victory at Quail Hollow and recent third-place finishes at the British Open and US PGA Championships establish him as a firm favourite for the Rookie of the Year Award in the States.
At No 7 in the world ladder, McIlroy is 26 rungs higher than Fowler and even if his 21st birthday (in May) was six months later than the American's, the Holywood star is exceptionally mature for this age.
Incidentally, it's a measure of their friendship and Fowler's good nature that he not only attended the birthday party thrown for McIlroy by colleagues and caddies at Sawgrass, but was the only one to bring a present - a touching gesture which the young Ulsterman really appreciated.
Fowler's a class act on the golf course and even though he's yet to win on Tour since turning professional after last year's Walker Cup, Fowler (in 25th) still lies four places ahead of McIlroy (29th) in the FedEx Cup points table.
McIlroy believes respect in the locker-room on Tour helped earn that Ryder Cup call for Fowler and insists he'll be good for American team chemistry.
"All the players seem to like Rickie," said McIlroy. "I know Phil Mickelson was pushing for him. When you have guys like that behind you, who want you on the team, it's important. The thing about Rickie is that you can put him with anybody - and he'll be great in the team-room."
It's crunch time for both youngsters this week as they bid for a place at the 30-man Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup climax, which takes place in Atlanta in a fortnight's time.
How they fare in this week's mission is more likely to be a determining factor in the race for the Rookie of the Year Award than their fate at the Ryder Cup, though a Sunday showdown between the two of them at Celtic Manor would be mouth-watering nonetheless.
While his fellow captain's pick Luke Donald has rocketed up to fifth place in the FedEx Cup race, well within striking distance of points leader Matt Kuchar in his adopted home of Chicago this week, Padraig Harrington is busy filling the three-week vacuum before he tees it up at the Ryder Cup.
Harrington last night committed to the Vivendi Cup in Paris the week before Celtic Manor (September 23-26), opting to play this new addition to the European Tour schedule instead of the Irish PGA at Seapoint the same weekend.
The Vivendi, a Pro-Am run on the same lines as the Dunhill Links and the AT&T National at Pebble Beach, offers the Irishman an opportunity to improve his ranking (18th) in the Race to Dubai and, should he win for the first time on Tour since August 2008, a much-needed morale boost in the run-up to the Ryder Cup.
Harrington will be partnered by his elder brother Fergal, a Stackstown member who plays off seven, at the exclusive Golf de Joyenval resort in Chambourcy, alongside European team-mates Peter Hanson and Edoardo Molinari, plus captain Colin Montgomerie and assistants Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn.