Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, two members of the new generation of golfers that has dominated the sport over the past two seasons, prepared on 20 January to renew their rivalry for the first time in 2016 at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Spieth and McIlroy, ranked world number one and three respectively, have won four of the last eight major championships between them, two apiece. McIlroy has a further two major wins from earlier in his career and is looking to quickly get back to that form.
The pair – alongside Australian Jason Day who won the last major tournament of 2015, the USPGA Championship, and is ranked second in the world currently – are seen by many as a wave of golfers are set to dominate the sport for years to come. However, ahead of the first meeting of the pair of the 2016, where they have been grouped together, McIlroy was keen to play down the budding rivalry, adding that Spieth was only one member of the field that the Northern Irishman was looking to beat at the tournament starting on 21 January.
"I don't have to just beat Jordan Spieth this week, I have to beat another 142 guys. So it would be foolish of me to think that is all that my competition was and I think it would be an injustice to every other player who is in the field because there is so much talent on tour, and so much depth, that if you forget about everyone else that can win the tournament then it is not really smart to do that," said McIlroy.
"So, I want to play well this week and if that means laying down a marker to someone, or the rest of the field, then that is great but I just want to play my best and hopefully win this thing. I have had four runners up and I have been close a few times and hopefully I can change that this week."
The 26-year-old can move second in the rankings if he finishes second or higher in Abu Dhabi, as Day isn't competing. "I know I need to play well this week to leapfrog Jason. I think if I can finish second then I can get up above him. I have made no secret of the fact that I want to get back to that position and to do it as quick as possible. It is definitely a motivation," said McIlroy.
Over the off-season, McIlroy underwent laser eye surgery, something he hopes will improve his ability to read the greens and his general game. He said that the surgery has already brought improvements and he has been practising well ahead of the Abu Dhabi Championship.
"It has definitely made everything just that little bit sharper maybe within 50 metres or so – like even reading signs on the road or whatever. I have obviously practised now for the last couple of weeks and I have practised pretty well and I feel like I have always been a decent green reader but maybe not quite as good as I could be so that is part of the reason why I took that step to have the eye surgery," said McIlroy.