Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods go head to head in Abu Dhabi

Current World Number One golf champion Rory McIlroy
Current World Number One golf champion Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods - multi-millionaire Nike stablemates now and golf’s two biggest attractions - will go head to head in Abu Dhabi on Thursday in what for both of them is their first competitive round of the year.

Dubbed “The Return of the Giants” in posters around the United Arab Emirates capital, the world numbers one and two are back to try to improve on finishing second and third last year. Behind Robert Rock, the world number 117, just in case you have forgotten.

Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer, three times a winner of the event, will be there alongside them when they tee off at 7.40am, but even he might be forced to acknowledge that he is just a member of the chorus line on this occasion.

Twelve months ago McIlroy stood third in the rankings and Woods, without a Tour victory for over two years, 25th.

Eight wins later - five for McIlroy, including his second major, and three for the American on the PGA Tour to take his career total to 74 - they are the game’s dominant personalities and the first blows in a 2013 rivalry that could electrify the sport are about to be thrown.

It is given added intrigue with the 23-year-old Northern Irishman being unveiled this week as the new face of Nike in a deal that could earn him a reported £250million.

Woods remains with the company, rewarding them for sticking with him during his sex scandal, but how the balance of power lies is going to be fascinating to watch.