ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The world's two top golfers are meeting more and more often on the course, but neither No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods are ready to call it a rivalry.
The pair, set to meet at this week's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, has established a blossoming relationship since playing together for the first three rounds of last year's tournament and expressed a mutual respect for one another's game.
But for a more heated rivalry to emerge, they both agreed they need to face each other on Sunday with a tournament at stake. It has yet to happen, although Woods did make a run at McIlroy in last year's Honda Classic with a birdie-eagle finish.
"It would be similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil (Mickelson) two years into my career. That wasn't the case. It takes time," Woods said Tuesday.
"Over the course of my career, I've gone head-to-head against Ernie (Els) and Vijay (Singh) the most and that has happened over 17 years," he said. "But it takes time. Certainly we've done it once at Honda. ... But we really haven't had the amount of matches or head-to-head duels with Phil and Vijay and Ernie. But then again, it's only been a few years. Let's give it time and see how it pans out."
Speaking Monday to The Associated Press, McIlroy agreed.
"I don't know if you can call it a rivalry yet because we haven't battled each other down the stretch of a major," McIlroy said. "It's not like we have been playing in the final group of a tournament and we are battling each other. Hopefully at some point that can happen this year and it would be great to be part of that."
McIlroy joked that that budding friendship would go out the window should that battle take place.
"He is going to try and beat my brains out. I know that," McIlroy told the AP. "I'm trying to do the same. We are both trying to win a golf tournament."
Woods and McIlroy are paired together for the first two rounds at Abu Dhabi starting Thursday.
"We've certainly hit it off, and our relationship has grown and our friendship's gotten better," Woods said. "We've just had a good time. Certainly give each other the needle quite a bit. That's always fun."
McIlroy said the relationship in many ways is built on mutual respect.
"Before this time last year, we would say hello in passing but not really anything else. I think once Tiger sort of gets to know you and trusts you, I guess, and lets you in, then it's great," McIlroy said.
"It's great to just spend time with him and pick his brain about a few things if I feel I need to, but it's a relationship that's definitely based on respect, because you know, he's been a huge hero of mine growing up and he's done some incredible things in golf. I think he respects me for what I've done on the golf course, too. So it's good."
But when it comes to the golf course, McIlroy joked that that the friendship would go out the window should that encounter take place.
"He is going to try and beat my brains out. I know that," McIlroy said. "I'm trying to do the same. We are both trying to win a golf tournament."