Columnist Brendan Telfer
Rory McIlroy’s recent win in the WGC Matchplay Championship in San Francisco graphically illustrates just how demanding the mental side of this sport is.
Golf is a non-contact sport; nonetheless, it can also be a brutal contest. McIlroy’s ultimate triumph at Harding Park required him to take down seven opponents (all ranked inside the world’s top 64) in five days.
Watching the Irishman at work is always an illuminating experience for he only does aggression. In San Francisco he disregarded matchplay’s Holy Grail — play your opponent, not the course — and as he always does, he attacked the course and largely ignored his opponents.
Rory’s win nicely cemented his lead at the top of the world rankings. The cushion he has over world No 2 Jordan Spieth is one he’ll probably need. This kid Spieth, as they say, can play.
You get the feeling these two magicians are set for a long duel for that No 1 world ranking spot.
With the Tiger era all but done and dusted, by the look of it, American golf badly needs a new golfing megastar, someone — ideally an American — who can kick-start the sport’s fickle TV ratings, which brings in the megabucks.
In 21-year-old Spieth, a fresh-faced kid from Texas, the television network moguls may just have had their prayers answered.
If anyone is likely to challenge McIlroy’s hegemony, it’s Spieth Spieth. Even before his masterly dismembering of the world’s best at Augusta in April, Spieth was America’s best golfer. Now he’s the world’s best, save for Rory (although he did miss the cut at the Players Championship).
Sure, it’s early days yet for the Irishman and the American, but the signs are encouraging. McIlroy and Spieth, now numbers one and two on the official world golf rankings, have split the two leading tournaments from the first four months of the year.
Spieth took out the Masters with breathtaking ease and a couple of weeks later McIlroy muscled his way past those seven world-class golfers to win his second World Golf Championship title.
Opposites attract, we’re told, which is why the Spieth/ McIlroy joust is so appealing.
First, their appearances. You have the archetypal clean-cut all-American kid with a ‘ butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth’ expression versus a tough, nuggety little rooster from Northern Ireland.
Just as well it’s golf and not boxing they’re involved in otherwise it would be all over in the first round.
Their respective games are so different. They attack at opposite ends of the hole. Off the tee, McIlroy owns Spieth. Rory’s average drive this year travels 306yds, the sixth longest on tour, 11yds behind leader Dustin Johnson. Jordan off the tee lags back in 64th place at 291yds. Respectable, but that’s all.
On the putting surface, however, there’s a complete turnaround. Remember those long putts Spieth was draining on those scary Augusta greens back in April? That was no fluke.
This year he is the No 1 putter on tour; in other words, he takes fewer putts per round (27) than any other golfer.
Rory meanwhile languishes almost embarrassingly in 141st place, a statistic not helped by his predilection for the odd four-putt, like we saw twice (one from 4ft) at the BMW Championship in Denver, Colorado, last September.
Contrast that with Spieth. In his short time on tour, he has strung together a 278-hole streak without a three-putt. That’s nothing short of amazing.
The race for golfing supremacy is never a sprint, it’s a marathon. So sit back and enjoy; hopefully, this battle will last for years.