World No. 1 Rory McIlroy is not the least interested in talk of a new golfing rivalry with Masters Champion Jordan Spieth.
The golf world has been abuzz with such talk after Spieth moved to World No. 2 on the back of his Augusta National triumph and in the process slamming the door shut on McIlroy’s Grand Slam aspirations.
But then McIlroy distanced himself on the World Rankings from Spieth with victory in last week’s WGC–Cadillac Match-Play Championship.
And while McIlroy will play the opening two rounds of today’s Players Championship alongside Spieth and good friend, Jason Day, McIlroy says that’s about as close as he will entertain talk of a rivalry.
“Such talk doesn’t do anything for me, not really,” he said.
“It’s been, like last year it was Rickie (Fowler), this year it’s Jordan, and it might then be someone else, could have been Tiger.
“There’s sort of been four or five rivalries over the past year (smiling). So it doesn’t do anything for me.”
However both players were asked what part of each other’s game could they have and with Spieth commenting: “I would like to hit it as far as Rory does.”
McIlroy in return singled out Spieth’s putting. “Jordan has been putting phenomenally well over the past few months and that’s been a big thing for him,” said McIlroy.
McIlroy’s only real concern of late was girlfriend Erica Stroll who had to leave the San Francisco course midway through last Sunday’s Match-Play final after being struck down with a bout food poisoning.
It was also the reason why McIlroy remained in the Golden Gate City on Sunday night and did not return home to Palm Beach Gardens until 5.30pm local time Monday, and after having spent much of his birthday criss-crossing the US continent.
This week’s Players Championship is yet another historic first, with five Irish-born players competing and just a month after a similar scenario at the Masters, with Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry also taking their place in this week’s $10m event.
Harrington has returned to competition after a three-week competition break and teeing-up at the start of four events in succession including next week’s Wells Fargo Championship, the BMW PGA Championship and the following week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
“The goal these next four weeks, apart from another victory this year, is to finish top-six this week that would get me into the US Open,” he said.
“I’m still in a good place after winning the Honda Classic recently and I’ve also had some good results here at Sawgrass finishing second both in ’03 and ’04 but then that was on different grasses to what they have now.
“So getting myself into the US Open is the big goal now.”
Harrington ended his Players preparations in bizarrely signing someone’s shoe while another spectator remarked to Harrington: “I hope you win this week.” Harrington responded: “I hope I do, too.”
Lowry is making his Players debut and has set his mind on following in the footsteps of England’s Danny Willett and securing PGA Tour ‘Special Temporary Membership’. Willett secured playing rights for the 2014/15 PGA Tour wraparound schedule on the back of securing third place in San Francisco.
Lowry can do the same with a top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass at Ponte Vedre in Florida. “If I could finish top-10 this week then that would go a long way to achieving what Danny did last week, so that’s the goal,” said Lowry. “I felt I played really well last week and to have beaten someone like G Mac, and given his record in match-play, was very pleasing.”
Clarke is competing for a first time since the Masters and made his way to Florida via last Saturday night’s Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao showdown in Las Vegas.
“There’s been much said about the fight but it was an incredible atmosphere being there ringside,” said Clarke. “But then it’s nice to be back to playing golf and after all the hype earlier this year with my Ryder Cup captaincy appointment I’m just looking forward to concentrating on my golf in coming weeks.
“Though it’s still been pretty busy off the course as I had a corporate day at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas before the fight and Alison (wife) has been involved with the final of the Miss Northern Ireland contest that’s taking place next Monday in Belfast.”
Irish tee times – Today
Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell – 12.46pm (Irish)
Rory McIlroy – 1.39pm (Irish)
Darren Clarke – 1.49pm (Irish)
Shane Lowry – 2.10pm (Irish)
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