Golf: McIlroy, Scott reignite duel at Australian Open

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy returns to defend his Australian Open title this week with Adam Scott itching for revenge after last year's final-hole anguish. -- PHOTO: AFP
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy returns to defend his Australian Open title this week with Adam Scott itching for revenge after last year's final-hole anguish. -- PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - World No. 1 Rory McIlroy returns to defend his Australian Open title this week with Adam Scott itching for revenge after last year's final-hole anguish.

The Northern Irishman is coming off a stellar year and heads into the Sydney tournament as Europe's top player for the second time in three years.

McIlroy won two Majors (the British Open and the US PGA Championship), a World Golf Championship title (WGC-Bridgestone) and the flagship event of the European Tour (BMW PGA Championship) to comfortably finish the season at the summit of the world rankings.

His return to form kicked off at the Australian Open last year, when he narrowly edged out Scott for his first tournament win of 2013.

"I'm really looking forward to defending my Australian Open title," McIlroy said.

"I had a terrific experience last year in front of great crowds. They really loved the showdown between myself and Adam. And it proved to be a really important win for me.

"I believe my return to form was given real momentum in Australia last year."

This week's event has been billed as one versus two, but the Australian lost his world No. 2 ranking to Henrik Stenson last weekend. The Swede successfully defended his DP World Tour Championship title by two shots from three Ryder Cup team-mates, among them McIlroy, in Dubai.

Scott looked destined to capture the "Big Three" of Australian golf in 2013 after winning the Australian PGA and Australian Masters titles when he was one shot clear coming up to the final hole of the Australian Open at Royal Sydney.

But he sent his second shot over the back of the green and took three shots to get down for a bogey while McIlroy holed out for a birdie to win by a stroke.

"I've still got a thorn in my side about the Australian Open last year so it will be fun to have another crack at that," Scott said at last week's Australian Masters where he finished joint second.

McIlroy is in the box seat this time, coming off three joint runner-up finishes and looking to join golfing greats Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the only overseas players to win back-to-back Australian Open titles.

But Scott believes his game is better suited to The Australian course after his near-miss at the Australian Masters in Melbourne last week.

"I just remember it as a long, tough, demanding golf course and that suits me," said Scott, who has only played a couple of rounds at the course.

"If it's that way and I get to hit the driver a bit more than it's certainly to my advantage."

US Masters runner-up Jordan Spieth, 21, is paired with Scott for the opening two rounds and looking for a big finish to a great year.

"He's (Scott) a guy that when I'm paired with him I'm excited, because I did grow up idolising him and his game," he said.

"It's been an incredible year and one that it's really nice to cap off here."