Colum­nist Bren­dan Telfer

The Cut - - CONTENTS -

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.

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