Belfast Telegraph

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods ready for battle in 2014

Telegraph Sport: where the debate really gets started

Relaxing in sunny Brisbane with partner Caroline Wozniacki, after Christmas at home, and seeking to build on a solid base in 2014 is Rory McIlroy, a player whose gifts are beyond the reach of any golfer when the stars are aligned.

His worst year as a professional followed his best, a warning that even those whose talents are preternaturally sourced must be mindful of the mortal ambush.

McIlroy tees up for the first time in 2014 at the $2.7m HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, January 16. A fortnight later he is joined at the $2.5m Omega Dubai Desert Classic by Tiger Woods, for whom the coming year is significant in a different way.

At this point in the golfing calendar all roads lead to Augusta in the second week in April. For this correspondent the Masters represents the first knockings of spring, the end of a long winter of football intoxication and clean air.

For McIlroy it is the tournament that captured his brilliance and his frailty.

He had Augusta by the throat for three days in 2011 and on the forth left it broken. He went on eight weeks later to claim the first of his two majors at the US Open, but until he dons that green jacket the Masters will always be an open sore.

Augusta is where it all started for Woods as a 21-year-old rookie 17 years ago. What it means to him now in pursuit of that 15th major is an item for another day. Believe me, you will have read enough about that come Sunday, April 13.

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