Rickie Fowler captured his first PGA Tour victory with a win at the Wells Fargo Championship on Sunday at Quail Hollow where he beat McIlroy — who reclaimed the world No 1 ranking this week — and D.A. Points in a play-off to finally confirm his status as the bright young hope of American golf.
Fowler and Northern Ireland's McIlroy, who compete this week at the Players Championship, are both 23 years old and appeal to a younger demographic that the PGA Tour has been keen to capture to broaden its base of support.
While the decline of Woods, who tied for 40th at last month's Masters, has allowed for a wide range of winners on the tour in recent years, McIlroy believes an elite group battling it out regularly against each other would appeal to fans.
‘I'd like to see a rivalry'
"As a fan growing up watching golf, I loved that Tiger was dominant and I loved that there might be Phil Mickelson who would come and challenge him for a while and then Ernie Els and then Vijay Singh and then David Duval," McIlroy said on Tuesday. "I sort of liked that as a story line. So it would be nice if a few people separated themselves from the rest ... I think for me if I was a golf fan, I'd like to see a rivalry."
Whether Fowler is part of any rivalry depends on whether he can find the consistency that has allowed McIlroy and Englishman Luke Donald to duel atop the world rankings but it is clear that he would be a welcome figure among the new elite. McIlroy's disappointment on Sunday at missing out on a second PGA Tour win this year was tempered slightly by losing out to someone he has known and liked since their teens.
"We've known each other since playing some amateur golf together. I developed a really good relationship with him at the Walker Cup in 2007. I felt like he was the best player on that team at the time, and he was also the nicest guy," said McIlroy.