A pair of aces now on the cards

(Above) Rory McIlroy had shots to rue at the US Open and his 66 on the final day could not make up for his slow start. (Left) Jordan Spieth can afford a smile as the top of the US Open trophy falls off since he has won two Majors at just age 21.
Jordan Spieth can afford a smile as the top of the US Open trophy falls off since he has won two Majors at just age 21.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Above) Rory McIlroy had shots to rue at the US Open and his 66 on the final day could not make up for his slow start. (Left) Jordan Spieth can afford a smile as the top of the US Open trophy falls off since he has won two Majors at just age 21.
Rory McIlroy had shots to rue at the US Open and his 66 on the final day could not make up for his slow start.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Golf gets a big boost with Spieth and McIlroy set to thrill fans with battles

UNIVERSITY PLACE (Washington) - Golf thrives on rivalries - the bigger the better. Hogan and Snead, Palmer and Nicklaus, Woods and Mickelson - their battles are etched in golfing history.

And now a new rivalry is fast emerging in the shape of Rory McIlroy versus Jordan Spieth.

The 21-year-old American became the youngest player since Gene Sarazen in 1922 to win two Major titles when he captured the US Open on Sunday to go with the Masters he took in April.

RORY, WATCH OUT

Rory's now got to step up to the plate. As commendable as his performance was (at the US Open) and again during the final round of the Masters, the bottom line is he's had too much ground to make up in both tournaments.

- Paul McGinley, Europe's Ryder Cup captain

Northern Irishman McIlroy, 26, won the British Open and PGA Championship last year to take his haul of Majors to four.

The two now share the four crown jewels of golf and the talk is of a rivalry that will fire up a sport struggling to cope with a fading and ageing Tiger Woods.

Interestingly, for all its quirks, Chambers Bay identified the best player in the world right now, and it is not McIlroy, whose victories are his only top-three finishes on the PGA Tour in 2015. When McIlroy is on, he is unbeatable, but when his game is a little off, as it was last week, he is not a factor.

Spieth tamed Chambers Bay with his B-plus game. "Didn't have my best stuff ball-striking and we really grinded over those four- or five-footers," he said, "and that was the difference."

Spieth's older rival has yet to show the same aptitude for grinding in a Major. It is victory or backdoor top 10 for McIlroy, who tied for ninth on Sunday.

Spieth stiff-arms all comparisons to McIlroy. "I'm certainly quite a bit younger than he is," said the American, who has closed the gap on McIlroy at the top of the world rankings to just 1.72 points after trailing him by 5.30 at the end of last year. "I'm just happy to have this and to be chasing that No. 1 spot which he holds."

Who's chasing whom?

In a matter of months, McIlroy has gone from the game's young gun to its elder statesman. Before the tournament, he staked his claim to the mountaintop.

"If you look back at the last four or five years, I guess I've won more Majors than anyone else in that time period," he said. "So do I feel like the best player in the world? Yes. And obviously I want to go out every week and try to back that up and show that."

The budding rivals will resume their battle for world domination at the British Open in St Andrews, where McIlroy will have the advantage of knowing the course far better than Spieth, who has played just a single round there.

Then, it is on to Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, in August for the PGA Championship, where McIlroy tied for third in 2010.

But Spieth tellingly believes he still has room for improvement "in all aspects of my game" and it may be time now for McIlroy to step out of his comfort zone and take another step forward.

Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, for one, believes that McIlroy needs to respond to the challenge posed by Spieth.

"Rory's now got to step up to the plate," he said in his column for Sky Sports.

"As commendable as his performance was (at the US Open) and again during the final round of the Masters, the bottom line is he's had too much ground to make up in both tournaments.

"He's made the mistake of getting off to slow starts in each of the last two Majors and Jordan has gone on to win both of them.

"He's putting it up to Rory which can only be a good thing."

Time will tell but one thing for sure is that McIlroy versus Spieth will be the single biggest story in golf for the rest of this year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2015, with the headline 'A PAIR OF ACES NOW ON THE CARDS'. Print Edition | Subscribe