McIlroy targeting ‘Fifth Major’ at Sawgrass

World No 1 keen to play down his emerging rivalry with Masters champion Jordan Spieth

A general view of the 17th green at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course  in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

A general view of the 17th green at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

World number one Rory McIlroy will look to claim one of the few big titles so far missing from his glittering CV at Sawgrass this week.

Victory in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in San Francisco on Sunday meant McIlroy joined Jack Nicklaus (17) and Tiger Woods (29) as the only players to win 10 events on the PGA Tour before their 26th birthday.

The Northern Irishman only just made it, turning 26 on Monday, but those 10 wins include four majors, two WGC titles and two FedEx Cup play-off wins, meaning the so-called ‘Fifth Major’ is high on the agenda.

McIlroy will play the opening two rounds alongside Masters champion Jordan Spieth and world number seven Jason Day, but again played down talk of a rivalry with Spieth, whose record-breaking win at Augusta National lifted him to second in the world rankings.

Asked if the “rivalry” got his competitive juices flowing, McIlroy said: “Not really because last year it was Rickie, this year it’s Jordan, might be someone else, could have been Tiger... there have been four or five rivalries over the past year. It doesn’t really do anything for me.”

As for playing alongside Spieth, McIlroy – who was sixth at Sawgrass last year after a closing 66 – added: “I am pretty much paying attention to myself out there . . .

Second Captains

More buzz

Spieth, 21, was also keen to downplay the situation, adding: “This is the first two rounds of a golf tournament. Obviously, every shot is as important as the next and as important as the ones that are late on Sunday.

“But at the same time the first two rounds is about getting yourself in position so I wouldn’t look much into any kind of rivalry that we may be trying to have in the first few rounds with all three of us, because we’re trying to get ourselves just into position to win.

“And I really hope that all three of us can be there on the weekend and make it a really, really fun battle and then require some great shots closing in on those last three holes.”

A note of caution towards the escalating hype surrounding Jordan Spieth arrived at Sawgrass yesterday from Bernhard Langer, a player who has seen and done it all before.

Perhaps naturally in his native United States, Spieth is the darling of the public but could expectation outstrip reality? “Well, there’s always a danger of that,” said Langer, a two-times Masters champion and a former world number one. “We have seen it happen with many players that have been called the next Jack Nicklaus or the next Arnold Palmer or now the next Tiger Woods.

Tremendous burden

“If Rory stays healthy in the way he swings, it’s going to be hard to beat him if his putter stays hot. But he [Spieth] is certainly in the mix of those guys that can be challenging for the No1 spot for many years.”

Spieth’s terrific short game partly offsets the gulf in distance off the tee between him and McIlroy. Yet the Northern Irishman’s technique is infinitely better than the 21-year-old Texan, a crucial point where longevity is concerned.

McIlroy conceded “frustrating” is the one word that springs instantly to mind when considering this course. He missed the cut on his first three visits to Sawgrass, followed by eighth and sixth-placed finishes in 2013 and 2014. Guardian Service

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