Jordan Spieth in sights as eager Rory McIlroy aims for the top

Rory McIlroy insists he will not get into a personal duel with Jordan Spieth at the HSBC Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi this week but is gunning to return to the top of the world rankings.

The Irishman is looking to move above Jason Day into second in the world rankings by winning a tournament he has finished second in four times in the last five years, and use it as a stepping stone back to the top.

“I want to play my best and I don’t have to just beat Jordan Spieth this week. I have to beat another 122 guys,” said 26-year-old McIlroy.

“I know I need to play well this week to leapfrog Jason. I think if I can finish second, I can get up above him. But I’ve made no secret about wanting to get back to that position (No. 1), and I’d like to do it as quickly as possible. So it’s definitely a motivation.”

The four-time major winner McIlroy is in his first event since winning the DP World Tour Championship on November 22.“It was a nice break over Christmas and New Year. I felt I needed it mentally and physically so it was nice to take that extended break and come back feeling really refreshed.

“Teeing off this Thursday morning, it’s your first competitive shot in a couple of months. There’s a buzz about it. It was the same last year with Rickie (Fowler) and the previous couple of years it was with Tiger. It feels like you’re right into the thick of things at the start. I think that’s really beneficial.”

McIlroy maintained his tradition of writing his goals for the year on the back of his boarding pass when he flew from Dublin to Dubai on January 7, although winning the Masters to complete the grand slam did not need including.

“Yeah, that’s obvious. I don’t need to write that down,” McIlroy said. “You want to win tournaments and you want to achieve things, but it’s about how to go about that on your off weeks, what you need to do, preparing technically, physically, mentally.

“A lot of the goals are about preparation and about doing as much as I possibly can so that when I turn up to events, I’m ready to go and I don’t have to think about anything. I know that I’m as well prepared as I can be.”

Meanwhile world number one Spieth wants to write his name in the history books as often as possible as he looks to add to his phenomenal achievements of last season.

Spieth won the Masters and US Open and finished fourth in the Open at St Andrews, missing out on a play-off by a single shot as he looked to win the third leg of an unprecedented calendar grand slam. The 22-year-old was also second behind Jason Day in the US PGA Championship before winning the Tour Championship in September to take the overall FedEx Cup title and an €8.8m bonus, before helping the United States retain the Presidents Cup in Korea.

Spieth then started 2016 by shooting 30 under par to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions by eight shots and believes he has already improved his game ahead of his debut in a regular European Tour event at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I think there’s two ways of going forward,” Spieth said. “One is you can be satisfied and think about all the stuff you’ve done. Or two, you can look at what these guys who you’ve looked up to your whole life have accomplished more than you have.

“So look at Tiger (Woods), Phil (Mickelson), Rory (McIlroy), these guys that have done more in the game of golf than I have, and I want to strive to get to what they have done. I want my name to go down in history for as many things as it can. That’s where my mind is. I’m less satisfied with what’s happened and more hungry to try and keep it going.

“I understand that it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. I’m willing to put in that time and go through the process. And you’re going to have good weeks, you’re going to have off weeks, I understand that. But as long as you can get just a little bit better each year, then the results will come.”

Spieth has been grouped with McIlroy and Rickie Fowler for the first two rounds in Abu Dhabi and added: “We very rarely get this pairing and very rarely will going forward, so we’ll take advantage and try and really feed off each other. We all want to beat each other pretty bad, so that should help us out within our group.

“I feel great. I came home from Hawaii, took a couple of days off, went and saw my instructor and I actually feel better the about the way I’m striking my irons coming into this week than I did going into Hawaii.

“I’m not going to shoot 30 under this week, I don’t think that’s possible on this golf course. But if I can keep it in the short grass here, I feel very confident about my chances.”

  • European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is confident golf does not have a problem with the kind of match-fixing which has been alleged to be widespread in tennis.

An investigation carried out by the BBC and Buzzfeed alleges that over the last decade a group of 16 players have repeatedly been brought to the attention of the sport’s governing bodies over suspicions they have fixed matches. The report claims all of the 16 players ranked in the world’s top 50 at some point and that more than half of them played in the Australian Open first round, which started on Monday.

Asked if he was concerned about similar problems in golf, Pelley said: “I would say emphatically not. It’s not one we are concerned about.”


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