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Tiger says McIlroy will only get better

While everyone else was so hasty in declaring Rory McIlroy as Tiger Woods's heir, the man himself has always limited his talk about the young Northern Irishman in terms of "the next generation". Until now, that is.

After watching the 23-year-old at close quarters in the last three events -- two of which McIlroy has won -- the 36-year-old seems ready to pass the crown down; if not in the short-term then certainly in the long-term. "The game of golf is in great hands with Rory -- he's here to stay," said Woods.

In truth, it has been an unavoidable conclusion to reach in a month in which the 'boy champion' truly came of age. The USPGA stroll at Kiawah Island was impressive enough, but, to many within the game, his reaction since has been just as significant.

There was no hangover from glory, as there inevitably was following his Major breakthrough at the US Open at Congressional in 2011. Instead, there was simply a bolstered conviction that now was the time to press on. And a $10m FedEx Cup-winning bonus would not be the worst way to show the world he means business. McIlroy, and yes, Woods, have given the FedEx Cup the lustre it craved.

You can buy a lot with that many noughts, but in this game of tradition, validation must be earned more genuinely. The 'draw' for the first two rounds is an old joke in golf, but with the FedEx sending them out in the order of leading points-scorers, there have been legitimate reasons to pair Woods and McIlroy.

And the rivalry has been something to behold, elevating the often mundane Thursday and Friday play to something eminently watchable. And never more so than at Crooked Stick for the BMW Championship.

The relationship between the pair is largely irrelevant when it comes to the sport. But, in terms of the Woods narrative, it has, at the very least, seemed notable. To those who gave authentic challenge to his hegemony, Woods always kept a frosty front up. Not anymore. He likes the kid and he loves what the kid has to offer.

"Yeah, he is a nice kid and because of that he's fun to play with," said Woods. "But then, you watch him swing the club and watch him putt and he doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. You can see that in the next decade or so as he really matures and understands some of the nuances of the game, he's only going to get better."

That must be a scary thought for a player with a dodgy knee on the wrong end of his 30s. For now, Woods can only concentrate on the next few weeks as he tries to deny McIlroy golf's biggest jackpot and then try to command the spotlight in what he prays will be a home Ryder Cup win in Chicago. The latter may very well prove easier than the former.

The projected standings say that all 12 of the US team will be in the final 30 to qualify for the FedEx finale. At the moment, the statisticians only make room for three of the Europe team -- Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, joining McIlroy and Westwood. Graeme McDowell could yet make it six.


Sunday Indo Sport