Monday 26 September 2016

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are worthy inheritors of Jack Nicklaus legacy

Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30

European number one Rory McIlroy Photo: Getty
European number one Rory McIlroy Photo: Getty

Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of them all, celebrates his 76th birthday on Thursday.

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Appropriately, that is the day when Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth go into battle for the first time in 2016 as they compete in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship where they will almost certainly be paired together in the opening two rounds.

The pulses will quicken, and the focus will be intense as two of the top three best golfers on the planet show their early season form, each well aware of the hype surrounding their presence in the tournament.

With Tiger Woods sidelined and the odds against him ever regaining the kind of form that won him 14 Majors, McIlroy and Spieth, with a cameo or two to come from Jason Day, spearhead the new youth movement in the game.

The Golden Bear is happy that Tour golf is in good hands.

Ironically, the absence of a dominant figure overshadowing the game such as Tiger did in his prime is a factor that Nicklaus believes is an advantage for the game's new rulers such as McIlroy and Spieth.

"It's a blessing for them to have had Tiger not being at the top, because they've had an opportunity to not have to put up with being afraid of somebody dominating the game," he said.

"They can go play. As a result of that, they've been able to go out and win and prove to themselves they are there, and can be there.

"I think the next year or two is going to be very interesting in the game of golf. It's going to be fun to watch."

That it will, starting on Thursday. Nicklaus will be blowing out candles on his birthday cake, and McIlroy and Spieth will do all they can to blow up a desert storm of birdies.

Spieth has already leaped into the year in winning mode, smashing the field to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions last Sunday week with a score of 30 under par.

McIlroy accepts the challenge. The European No 1 let his followers know via Instagram that he has been working hard on the range and he is looking forward to the first round on Thursday.

He is not the only one. Rickie Fowler will be in Abu Dhabi, as part of an impressive field.

Fowler insists that he has the game to win a Major. He has the self-belief to do so, and if fortune favours him, he sees himself emulating Day and getting the 'non-Major-winner' monkey off his back, ideally this year.

"The main goal going into this year is focusing on the Majors, first one obviously being Augusta, getting myself into contention there, and I would really like to knock off my first Major," said Fowler.

The European Tour is happy to project the quality of the line-up, citing eight Major champions, 89 European Tour winners, six European Tour No 1s and five World No 1s as evidence of the strength in depth of this tournament.

And for all the deserved profile being given to Spieth and McIlroy, let's not forget that last year's winner in Abu Dhabi was Gary Stal of France - a reminder that there are no certainties in sport, and especially not in golf.

On the home scene, the Irish Golf Writers Awards, sponsored by Carr Golf, take place at Castleknock GC on Thursday night.

Shane Lowry (Professional of the Year), Paul Dunne (Men's Amateur of the Year)' and Claire Dowling (nee Hourihane, Distinguished Services)will receive their awards at the event.

The Women's Amateur winner was Cavan's Leona Maguire, who is in the USA.

Irish Independent

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