Is there any hope for Rory vs Tiger?
It almost doesn't need a staged head-to-head in China to add to the weight of talk around Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Same swooshing sponsor, same off-course tittle-tattle, same debate about every shot they play and ball they drop (although maybe that's just Tiger).
Yet digging in to their stats ahead of "The Match At Mission Hills" in Haikou on Monday, it would seem Rory might be putting himself in the worst possible place at the worst possible time against the worst possible person.
It is the second time the pair have dueled it out in this format, but a lot has happened since last year's match. Rory has joined Tiger at Nike, endured a torrid 2013 season, changed management - twice - and may or may not have split up with his tennis star girlfriend. Only some of that factors in to the bookies making Tiger 4/5 favourite to McIlroy's 7/4, the rest is informed by statistics and form.
The Tiger Effect
- Playing a round with Tiger Woods on Tour can make a huge difference to performance, with the hustle and bustle that surrounds the world No. 1 not your average kind of Sunday twoball. Here's how the world's best have ranked since 2001:
- Lee Westwood P15 W8 L5 D2 Win rate 53%
- Phil Mickelson P20 W9 L9 D2, Win rate 45%
- Jim Furyk P10 W4 L6 Win rate 40%
- Adam Scott P11 W4 L7 Win rate 36%
- Vijay Singh P13 W3 L9 D1 Win rate 23%
- Luke Donald P14 W3 L9 D2 Win rate 21%
- Ernie Els P20 W4 L13 D3 Win rate 20%
- Rory McIlroy P15 W3 L9 D3 Win rate 20%
- Sergio Garcia P13 W1 L9 D3 Win rate 8%
With a reduced schedule and an extended period of good health, Tiger put together a very Tiger-like season. Sure, there weren't any majors - in fact, there was no top-three finish at any of the majors - but five wins in 16 events and an 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year trophy on his mantle is a very good return.
Rory, on the other hand, struggled. With a bag full of new Nike toys, he has yet to pick up a win in 2013 and finished outside the top 30 more often than he finished inside the top 10 this year.
Amazingly, if the current two-year system for the world rankings was only based on the past 12 months, world No. 6 McIlroy would have finished the season ranked 37th, behind the likes of Joost Luiten, Chris Wood and Graham DeLaet. Where Tiger managed to earn $2,040 per shot, on average, throughout the season, McIlroy's poor form saw him bank just $461 per shot.
That's only part of it. Playing against Tiger on tour brings with it a whole host of other challenges and distractions, and few go unaffected by it. Rory is not immune. In 12 Tour-sanctioned rounds together, Woods has won on nine occasions, McIlroy three times, with the pair equalling each other a further three times. Tiger has outperformed Rory by more than 1.5 shots per round on average in this rounds.
Whilst Tiger's average (69.1) is roughly on par with his career PGA Tour scoring average (68.7), Rory's average score when playing with Woods (70.7) is higher than any of his six years on the PGA Tour.
Woods ranked higher than McIlroy in all the key statistics this season: Total Driving (22 places higher), Greens In Regulation (62 places higher), Strokes Gained Putting (100 places higher), Scrambling (99 places higher) and Scoring Average (31 places higher).
However, McIlroy may take some confidence following his season-best second-placed finish at the Korea Open. His fourth round 67 was his lowest final round score since before the Valero Texas Open, the week before the Masters last April. McIlroy hit 16 of 18 greens Sunday, a feat he only achieved once in 55 PGA Tour rounds in 2013.
"Things are definitely on the up. I feel like I'm getting back to where I need to be," McIlroy said after that round in Korea. That growing confidence will be put to the test in Haikou.
Jamie Kennedy is a golf writer and stats nerd. Follow him @jamieonsport