They light competitive fires in athletes and inspire passion in fans. And for quite a few years, golf didn't have any rivalries. No real ones anyway.
Golf had Tiger Woods, one player so dominant it seemed no one would ever step up to challenge him. Those whose job it was to write about golf, lamented the lack of a worthy adversary... and latched onto Phil Mickelson... to little avail. Ultimately, the Tiger/Phil stories were rarely compelling, in part because Mickelson never appeared to have much appetite for being the anti-Tiger.
Then came 2010. Lefty's season seemed to start and end with his touching win at the Masters. Meanwhile Europeans won the remaining three majors... plus the Ryder Cup.
Wracked by scandal and vilified by many in sports media, Woods floundered. He went from event to event, offering little hope for a much-awaited comeback, however despite the winless season... and the reams of righteous indignation put forth by the press... it was clear that Tiger was still US golf's best hope. And from a fan-standpoint, far-and-away the player who generated the most interest, passion and excitement.
Headlines coming out of the Chevron World Challenge yesterday reflected the continued consternation many journalists still feel about Tiger Woods and his game, while International headlines vaunted the awesome clutch-putting win by affable Graeme McDowell. Others were quick to dismiss the tournament altogether, as a highly curated exhibition that revealed little.
Be that as it may, fan sentiment is best reflected these days on the social networks particularly, Twitter where hashtags and keywords can provide a real-time snapshot of the level of engagement and enthusiasm surrounding a particular person or event ...and yesterday afternoon it was crystal clear. A Tiger Woods rivalry is still what golf fans want. In everyone from the avid golf fanatic to the most peripheral golf-observer-in-passing, a final round with Tiger in the mix... or the possibility of such... drives interest and provokes passion for golf.
That's just the way it is ...and it seems to we as golf fans should be rather optimistic for 2011. With players like Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and a number of others seemingly ready to take on Tiger it seems that for the time being, our rivalry drought may well be over.
Photos by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America