Jordan Spieth expects 'scary' test from Rory McIlroy in 2016
Jordan Spieth is long odds-on to finish 2016 as the world No 1 but the American himself is under no illusion about the challenge Rory McIlroy will pose – starting here at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship this week.
It happens to be the worst kept secret in the Arabian Desert that McIlroy and Spieth will play with each other in the first two rounds, as the organisers understandably try to extract as much publicity as possible from the burgeoning rivalry.
Yet after Spieth’s stunning season opener 10 days ago in Hawaii – where he beat the best on the PGA Tour by eight shots – the conversation suddenly turned into the Texan 22-year-old keeping pace with the records set by Tiger Woods. However, Spieth believes he has enough on his plate simply to keep McIlroy at bay and arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Monday aware that the Ulsterman has not merely had his feet up in his two‑month break.
After having laser surgery on his eyes before Christmas, McIlroy has been in neighbouring Dubai since the new year honing his swing under the guidance of coach Michael Bannon. Spieth expects his 26-year-old rival to hit the ground running as he sets off with extra motivation after that majorless 2015.
“In a season that he considered lost, he still came back and ended up winning the Race To Dubai and that proves what a player he is,” Spieth said. “I’m sure there are very few players who have been working harder than he is to make this season his best season yet – and that is scary. Hopefully I can prevent that to an extent.”
The bookmakers clearly believe that Spieth will succeed in this objective. Ladbrokes make Spieth 4-9 to be ahead of McIlroy in the rankings at the end of the year, while the latter is 2-1 to close out the campaign at world No 1. That is just one of Spieth’s aims. “I would like to contend in a couple of majors on Sunday and I’d like to win at least one of them,” Spieth said. “I’d also like to represent the United States in not only the Olympics but also the Ryder Cup. It would be great to get a couple of wins, not only for myself but for my country.”
This is Spieth’s first visit to the UAE and there is understandably great anticipation about his head-to-head with McIlroy. Yet this will not just be ‘The Jordan and Rory Show” as both Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson are also in a quality field. But there is no Jamie Donaldson, the Welshman who won this tournament three years ago when Tiger Woods was the main draw alongside McIlroy.
Donaldson sustained a nasty wound with a chainsaw when gardening and although he was lucky to avoid ligament damage he misses this week and will decide whether he can play in next week’s Singapore Open in the forthcoming days. With aspirations to qualify for his second Ryder Cup in a row, the world No49 will not want to be out for too long.