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 Holywood player 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.
“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.
“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.
“I am playing with Rory but to me it is just another opening two rounds of a tournament and I just want to do well.
“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.”