Rory vs. Rickie: Will McIlroy-Fowler be Golf's Next Great Rivalry?

By Matthew Castonguay
Sunday August 10th, 2014 8:51 pm EDT

Getty Images

So far, the headlines of the golf world this year (pertaining to strong play) have been dominated by two players almost exclusively: Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler.

Sure, Erik Compton had his moment in the sun at Pinehurst in June, as did Martin Kaymer. And Bubba Watson was hot with two wins early in the year -- including his second Masters triumph in April. But McIlroy and Fowler have been the two most dominant players in the game in 2014.

And with them both at 25 years of age, things could stay that way for years to come.

McIlroy has won four very big tournaments -- including the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool and the PGA Championship at Valhalla. Fowler hasn't won yet, but he did become the third player in history to finish T-5 or better in all four of the year's majors, joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Fowler became the first to do so without winning one. 

 
McIlroy and Fowler's paths have crossed a number of times despite their relatively short careers. This year alone the two stalwarts have gone toe-to-toe in The Open and PGA Championship. Both times, McIlroy outlasted Fowler, claiming his third and fourth career major titles along the way. 

Rory McIlroy anchor

The 2014 season wasn't the first -- nor will it be the last -- time these guys go head-t0-head. McIlroy and Fowler have been competing against each other since the 2007 Walker Cup, when Fowler and Billy Horschel defeated McIlroy and Jonathan Caldwell 2 and 1 in Sunday's morning foursomes.

Related Link: The Breakdown - Rickie Fowler's Majorly Impressive Year

While McIlroy has won 15 times as a professional in just seven years, Fowler has won only twice. Both times, however, it was McIlroy that was the runner-up. In 2011, Fowler won the Kolon Korea Open by six shots over McIlroy. In 2012, Fowler outlasted him and D.A. Points in a playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship to claim his first PGA Tour win. 

fowler-rory-walker-cup

This budding new rivalry reminds us of one that is still playing out: Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson. 

The similarities are pretty interesting with McIlroy in the role of Woods and Fowler as Mickelson. Think about it: Young hotshot, highly-touted with all the skills, bursts onto the scene and starts winning. And not just winning -- dominating. In 2000, Woods won his third, fourth and fifth major championships. The first of those two was by 15 strokes in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. His first major title came in 1997 at the Masters when he won by 12. Each of McIlroy's first two major titles? They came by eight shots -- the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship. 

Related Link: Rory McIlroy Makes Girl's Day with Photo at Gas Station

Like Mickelson, Fowler has shown all of the tools and talent to be one of the great players in the game and, without their foil, would probably be considered the best of his generation. Sure, Fowler still needs to do some proving on that front since he only has the one PGA Tour win, but the flat-brimmed wonder has had plenty of opportunities. Remember: Woods and Mickelson were considered rivals well before Lefty claimed his first major at Augusta in 2004. 

fowler-rory-handshake

Still, Fowler has finished inside the top 10 in 25% of majors played since turning pro, and 11 times he's finished T-3 or better on tour. Had it not been for a few Sunday stumbles, Fowler could have easily had multiple wins before the age of 25. 

Perhaps the most exciting part about their rivalry is the respect the two of them have for each other, and knowing that they are as excited for it to play out over the next 15-20 years as we are: 

 
It certainly looks like this epic battle will rage on into the foreseeable future -- and for that, the game of golf is thankful.

Photo Galleries: Best of Rory McIlroy | Best of Rickie Fowler 

Related Link: Complete PGA Championship Coverage

More PGA Championship Links:
Round 3 Recap: McIlroy Keeps Lead, Big Names Close Behind
Photos: PGA Championship - Round 3
Jason Day Shows Off Legs, Makes Most Bizarre Par Ever
Whoops: Ian Poulter's Wedge Shot On Green Backfires
2014 PGA Championship's Hole of the Day: Valhalla's 18th
2014 PGA Championship: Round 3 Tee Times and Pairings
Round 2 Recap: Rory McIlroy Builds his Lead in the Rain
2014 PGA Championship: Best Day 2 Style
2014 PGA Championship's Hole of the Day: Valhalla's 13th
Rory McIlroy Makes Girl's Day with Photo at Gas Station
Chris Wood Split his Pants En Route to Top of Leaderboard
The Fringe: We May Not See Jason Dufner Again Until 2016
Round 1 Recap: From Glory's Last Shot to Rory's Latest Shot
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Woods, Mickelson Start With Mixed Results at PGA Championship
9 Best Golfers Yet to Win a Major
2014 PGA Championship's Hole of the Day: Valhalla's 7th 
The Fringe: Fowler, Garcia on the Bag & Photobombing at the PGA
The Breakdown: Who are the Hottest Players in the Majors?
9 Best Groups To Watch at 2014 PGA Championship
Flashback: Y.E. Yang Tames Tiger in 2009 PGA Championship
Go Time: Tiger Woods Shows Up at Valhalla, Expects to Win
Golfstradamaus: 96th PGA Championship
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The Fringe: Rory McIlroy the Next Bond & Horschel's Latest Pants
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Now More Than Ever, Tiger’s Race to Catch Jack Looking Dim
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