THEY were born on different sides of the planet but the paths of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were destined to cross at the top of the world. Go back to their roots in golf and you'll find enough common ground to explain how Woods (36) and McIlroy (23) have forged friendship out of the hottest rivalry in sport.
No question, McIlroy's domination on both the European and US Tours in 2012 heralds a new era in golf.
Only Woods at his peak made winning Majors look as ludicrously easy as McIlroy did at August's US PGA.
One can say the same for this year's US Money List and Europe's Race to Dubai, which the Holywood star won at a canter.
Nobody will match the intimidating intensity, irresistible power and infallible putting edge of the young Tiger. Nowadays, however, it looks as if Woods is trying to hitch a ride back to the summit on McIlroy's coat-tails.
Nick Faldo's blunt assertion that his injury-wracked, scandal-tossed years have stripped Tiger of his fearsome edge and self-belief is well-founded.
McIlroy, meanwhile, has blossomed suddenly into a player capable of winning on any given Sunday. Technically, he's more gifted than Tiger. Socially better equipped, he also appears to have better balance in his life.
Still, it's fascinating to compare their first 23 years: how they won Junior World titles at an age when their peers still played with Lego ... or coincidences, like both making scratch at 13.
Tiger's feats as he exploded onto the world stage in 1996 and 1997 inspired Rory as a child and while Woods went to college, teenager McIlroy decided to serve his time on Tour.
By 23, Woods counted 16 official US Tour victories among a worldwide tally of 21, against just nine by McIlroy, who doesn't turn 24 until May. Yet McIlroy gave better measure of his stock by landing that second Major four months faster than Woods ... and he does appear to have many, many more in the offing.
Born May 4, 1989, Holywood, Co Down
Age 2 – Drives the ball 40-plus yards.
Age 8 – Becomes youngest full member of Holywood Golf Club.
Age 9 – Wins World U-10 title at Doral.
Lands first hole-in-one.
Appears on UTV's ' Gerry Kelly Show', chipping balls into a washing machine.
Age 11 – Shoots level-par 69 at Holywood
Age 13 – Plays off scratch.
Age 15 – Enters first professional event, the British Masters, misses cut.
– Makes history as the youngest winner of the 2005 West of Ireland.
Age 16 – Enters record books as youngest Irish Close champion.
– Embarrasses GB&I selectors who omit him from Walker Cup team with sensational course-record 61 at Royal Portrush.
Age 17 – Wins European Amateur.
Age 18 – Becomes World No 1 Amateur.
– Wins silver medal as top amateur at 2007 British Open with rounds of 68, 76, 73 and 72 (5-over-par).
– Plays 2007 Walker Cup at Royal Co Down.
Age 19 – Makes 60-man elite field at the 2008 Volvo Masters in his first full Tour season.
– Becomes the youngest member of world's elite top 50 after reaching play-off in Hong Kong.
– Notches first pro win at 2009 Dubai Desert Classic.
Age 20 – Ties third at the US PGA in Whistling Straits, thereby making the cut in all four Majors in 2009.
– Is eclipsed only by Lee Westwood in the inaugural Race to Dubai.
– Wraps up first US Tour victory with stunning 66 and 62 over the weekend at Quail Hollow in 2010, on the eve of his 21st birthday.
Age 21 – Equals the record low score at the Majors with phenomenal first-round 63 at the 2010 British Open at St Andrews, where he finishes third.
– Makes Ryder Cup debut at Celtic Manor.
– Takes four-stroke lead into Sunday at the 2011 Masters but implodes with a final-round 80.
Age 22 – Romps to a record-shattering eight-shot victory in 2011 US Open, just 70 days after his Augusta meltdown.
– Chases Luke Donald all the way to the finish in the Race to Dubai after registering second European Tour victory in Hong Kong.
– Becomes the first Irish golfer to reach world No 1 with win at 2012 Honda, defying Tiger down the stretch.
Age 23 – Becomes (at 23 years, three months and eight days) the youngest multiple Major-winner since Seve Ballesteros with mould-breaking eight-stroke victory at the US PGA.
– Returns to world No 1 at Kiawah.
– Plays second Ryder Cup at Medinah.
– Earns €11.3m worldwide (so far) in 2012 (including $3m FedEx and $1m Race to Dubai bonuses).
– Banks €25.23m career prize money in just 61 months. Counts nine tournament wins and 55 top-10s (including 22 first-three finishes) among 136 events played.
Born December 30, 1975, Cypress, California
Age 3 – Shoots 48 for nine holes at Navy Golf Club in Cypress.
Age 6 – First hole-in-one, May 12, 1982.
Age 8 – Wins the first of six Optimist International Junior World titles.
Age 13 – Makes scratch handicap.
Age 15 – Becomes the youngest ever US Junior Amateur champion.
Age 16 – Is the first golfer to win the US Junior Amateur twice.
– Plays his first Tour event, the Los Angeles Open, and misses the cut.
Age 17 – Completes unbelievable hat-trick of wins at the US Junior Amateur.
Age 18 – Makes the largest comeback ever to become the youngest US Amateur champion.
– Enrols at Stanford University.
– Leads USA to victory at World Amateur Team Championships in France.
Age 19 – Wins second US Amateur title.
– Ties 41st at the 1995 Masters, his first Major, with rounds of 72, 72, 77 and 72 (five-over par) and is the only amateur to make the cut.
– Also makes the cut at the British Open in St Andrews, shooting 74, 71, 72, 78 (seven-over).
– Makes the US Walker Cup team at Porthcawl.
Age 20 – Completes an unprecedented hat-trick of victories in the US Amateur.
– Wins NCAA championship. Takes share of British Open 72-hole record for an amateur with 281 (75, 66, 70, 70) at Lytham.
– Turns professional in August 1996 and is PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after winning the Oldsmobile Classic and Las Vegas Invitational.
– Earns $940,420 worldwide in 11 tournaments, an average of $85,493 per event.
– Advances to No 33 in the world rankings, the fastest rise into the top 50 in history.
Age 21 – Sparks a revolution in world golf with his seismic victory at the 1997 US Masters, breaking a myriad of records at Augusta with his 12-stroke win.
– Qualifies for the Ryder Cup team at Valderrama.
– Becomes the youngest world No 1 in history in only his 42nd week as a pro.
– Completes seven victories and 19 top-10 finishes in 30 events played worldwide in his first 12 months as a pro.
Age 22 – Embarks on a major swing change with Butch Harmon.
– Finishes fourth on the PGA Tour Money List.
– Banks $2,927,006 in 26 events around the world, winning the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand, the Bell South Classic and the PGA Tour Grand Slam.
– Qualifies for US Presidents Cup team.
Age 23 – Completes his second victory at the Majors in the 1999 US PGA at Medinah (at 23 years, seven months and 16 days).
– Leads the US Money List with record $6,616,585 with eight official Tour wins and eight other top-10 finishes in 21 starts and zero missed cuts.
– Earns $7,681,625 worldwide with a staggering 11 wins in 25 events.
– Makes the US Ryder Cup team at Brookline.
– Registers most PGA Tour victories (15) by a 23-year-old.
– Racks up $13.996m earnings in his first three and a half years as a pro, winning 21 times around the globe.