Rory McIlroy on Jordan Speith 'rivalry': It doesn't really do anything for me
Published 06/05/2015 | 19:54
World number one Rory McIlroy will look to claim one of the few big titles so far missing from his glittering CV in the Players Championship 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 in a pre-tournament press conference 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, trying to get myself around the golf course. Regardless of who I play with that doesn't really change, I'll notice it because there is going to be a bit more buzz around the group but I am focusing on my own game and trying to do the best I can."
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."
Defending champion Martin Kaymer became just the fourth European player to win the event in 41 years in 2014, carding a closing 71 to finish one ahead of Jim Furyk.
Kaymer held a three-shot lead late in the final round, but returned to the course after a 90-minute weather delay to run up his first double bogey of the week on the 15th and looked certain to drop another shot when his tee shot on the famous par-three 17th caught the bank of a bunker and span back to within inches of the water.
A weak chip left Kaymer facing a long putt for par, but he holed from 29 feet to remain one ahead and also parred the 18th to secure a wire-to-wire victory.
"It's a very big event for us, it's one of the events you hope to win in your career," the US Open champion told a pre-tournament press conference. "It's a career goal to win a major, win a World Golf Championship event and to win the Players. Fortunately I could get the job done last year in a fairly dramatic way. It was a little bit of a rollercoaster for me.
"It's a very tough field to beat, it's a very difficult golf course. It can be very very difficult if you don't hit the fairways. If you hit the fairways you can shoot a low score and it's probably one of the best tests we have all year long, especially with that finish of 16, 17 and 18."