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Rory McIlroy the man to beat in Dubai Desert Classic

Normally the world number one would be favourite for any golf tournament he plays in, particularly if that number one is Tiger Woods.

But it is very easy to see why Coral have installed Rory McIlroy, currently ranked sixth in the world, as their 100/30 market leader for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic ahead of the American legend, available at 6/1.

We are seeing the old Rory again after a largely forgettable 2013, but these odds are more to do with Woods’ latest performance in the Farmers Insurance Open last weekend, when he shot a dismal 79 to miss the 54-hole cut.

This was the second highest score of Woods’ professional career – his worst, an 81 in an horrendous storm in the 2002 Open at Muirfield, can easily be forgiven. And it came at Torrey Pines of all places, a venue where he has won eight times.

Typically, Woods never gave up, a chip-in on the 17th and a holed 10-footer at the last keeping him the right side of 80, but it really was awful golf by his standards, the worst section of his round being a seven-hole stretch of bogeys or worse.

The 14-time major winner just put it down to a bad day at the office, but pundits and former players were not so understanding, one comparing his swing to that of a 55-year-old.

And it was a bad enough performance for punters to latch on to McIlroy. The two stars have been paired together for the opening two rounds this week and perhaps that rivalry will spark Woods back into life, but Coral’s 4/6 the Ulsterman beats his friend over 72 holes makes a lot of appeal.

McIlroy, who came back with a bang to beat the red-hot Adam Scott in the Australian Open last month before following up with excellent showings in three subsequent Tour events, is also 11/8 in Coral’s grouping with Woods (12/5), Henrik Stenson (7/2), Rafael Cabrero-Bello (10/1) and Thorbjorn Olesen (11/1).

Of course, this isn’t a two-horse race and players like Frenchman Romain Wattel and American Peter Uihlein, both stars of the future, are definitely worth considering each way at 50/1.

But most eyes will be on McIlroy and Woods as they go head to head on Thursday and Friday and possibly even into the weekend as the last pairing if they bring out the very best of each other.