Can Rory McIlroy fill the shoes of Tiger Woods?

End of the line?: Tiger Woods. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesEnd of the line?: Tiger Woods. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
End of the line?: Tiger Woods. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Tiger Woods’S latest motor vehicle incident was one to set alarm bells ringing in golf’s corridors of power.

Not only did it look a sickening crash with his car in a mess at the bottom of a hill, it also had the potential to turn the golfing upside down.

For as Woods bids to make enough of a recovery to walk again and live in comfort, it is difficult to see even without the qualifications of a doctor, how at the age of 45 he will be able to return to the golf course again and compete for honours.

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Woods’s body has already been ravaged by five back surgeries even before this.

He has already won one major on a broken leg at Torrey Pines in 2008, and one at Augusta just two years ago that was arguably even his greatest achievement, but this just looks like a wish too far – and we wish him well.

That must be crushing for the US PGA Tour, the R&A, the many broadcasters who pump millions into the sport and the fans who keep the business rolling.

For Woods is the dominant face of the sport, has been now for a quarter of a century, one who suddenly looks to have played his last shot in anger.

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Even when he has had lean years no player’s shots are broadcast to worldwide audiences more than Tiger’s.

It seems his every movement is closely monitored by the cameras even to the point where you see him scampering off the third tee to use the Portaloo.

Woods has made golf and golfers millions for 25 years and suddenly that cash cow could be gone, just as he was entering the final phase of his glittering career, the final pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s 18 majors after his own remakable 15th at the Masters in 2019.

Who is capable of filling the void if such a thing is possible now the greatest showman is about to exit stage left?

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Dustin Johnson has the game but does not have the transcendent appeal and magnetic smile that Tiger possesses.

The reigning Masters champion rarely lets his mask slip.

Brooks Koepka is the closest thing to replicating the dominance of Tiger in major championships, but sadly there are jars of pickled onions that have more personality and marketability than Koepka.

Jordan Spieth has the boyish charm and the killer instinct, but his game has deserted him.

Rickie Fowler had the charisma in his younger days but can not win a major.

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Rory McIlroy could still emerge from the pack. He has the looks and the personality, as well the understanding of the importance of his role when he opens his mouth. All that is mixed in with the inescapable feeling that beneath it all beats the heart of a little rascal.

What’s missing for him is that killer instinct. Winning four majors in four years was a great run but that was seven years ago.

His game has become infuriating to follow – brilliant for three rounds only for a 75 to undermine his chances of victory.

McIlroy is forever chasing, but rarely leading these days.

How apposite it would be for him to seize the gauntlet at Augusta, the one major still to elude him, to complete the grand slam and in so doing reassure the golfing world that while the era of the Tiger has probably now ended, here is a man ready to lead the sport toward a new dawn.

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For someone will have to, otherwise golf could struggle to retain its place in the mainstream.

A Woods-free landscape is not worth thinking about. No-one has their every shot recorded for the TV audience like he does. Annoying as that is to watch when you want to see other players in action, ask yourself why is that?

Because he is the only player non-golf fans want to watch.

Because he is the player golf fans know remains the standard-bearer, even after all these years.

Like your favourite team, his is the first result you look for.

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Without him, the TV audience will halve and the big broadcasters will look elsewhere for their transcendent icons.

Look at athletics in a post-Usain Bolt era. Bolt and Woods are not just superstars, they are forces of nature.

Life without them for the sports that made so much out of their profiles, just does not bear thinking about.

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