Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Their Emerging Rivalry

Sorry, environmentalists. Great cars run on gasoline. There is just something about the roar of an irresponsibly large V8 chugging unleaded with an unquenchable thirst.

Much like great cars running on gasoline, in sports, the greatest rivalries are fueled by disdain.

Spare me the rhetoric about mutual respect and adulation. The days of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson have long since passed, and in an era of TMZ and tabloid news, we’re not interested in rivals who exchange pleasantries. There is no such worry between Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, two European golfers who don’t seem to care much for one another.

McIlroy and Westwood did the whole mutual respect thing. They even shared a mentor-protege type relationship at one point, but luckily for golf fans that bond has been severed. Now, these two great players have developed a rivalry that is reminiscent of Tiger and Phil in the late-90′s.

In the absence of blatant malice, McIlroy and Westwood were civil on Sunday in the semifinal match of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but even though we weren’t privy to any verbal barbs, the body  language of both Rory and Lee spoke volumes. The thrill of victory was clearly replaced with the satisfaction of issuing the other defeat. It was McIlroy who’d enjoy the feeling of vindication on Sunday, but in all honesty, the fans are the true winners.

Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood are on top of their games, with Rory on the verge of super-stardom and Westwood trying to shake the moniker of “World’s Greatest Player Yet to Win a Major.” It’s a formula we’ve seen before, but it’s ultimately one that works well when put to practice.

Add in the appearance of an off the course feud, and you’ve got a rivalry that has true staying power, which is something that golf seems to desperately need in the absence of Tiger Woods’ putting stroke.

Golf is a game that will always appeal to it’s die-hards, but in order for it to have mass appeal it requires compelling story-lines that can survive five-hour rounds and a nine month season. A serious rivalry between the game’s No. 2 and No. 3 players in the world certainly qualifies, and you probably couldn’t ask for a better Tiger-less story in golf.

It certainly trumps Keegan Bradley spitting or John Daly walking off the course with another injury, and luckily for golf, it is still in its infancy. Yesterday won’t be the last time we see McIlroy and Westwood battling it out, and like any great car, this rivalry will only get better with time.