Hot start needed to dethrone top rivals

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Healthy and motivated McIlroy looks to fine-tune game in early part of new season

NAPA (California) • Third-ranked Rory McIlroy, still leading the European Tour's Race to Dubai with six weeks remaining in the campaign, launches his bid for a 2015-16 US PGA Tour crown today.

The new American wraparound golf season tees off just 18 days after the Tour Championship ended the old one as McIlroy, a four-time Major champion, and England's seventh-ranked Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open winner, top the names at the Frys.com Open.

"I'm happy to be here and to get a bit of a start," McIlroy said. "It seems like any time I come back to the PGA Tour in February, guys have played eight or 10 events and I'm trying to play catch-up. I want to get my season off to a good start."

Many of his top rivals are resting now. American Jordan Spieth won the Masters and US Open as well as the Tour Championship and the US PGA Tour play-off bonus of US$10 million (S$13.7 million) in taking the world No. 1 ranking last month.

Australian Jason Day, who captured his first Major at the PGA Championship, is ranked second. Both will wait to begin their 2015-16 campaigns after spending part of their 424-hour "off-season" at the Presidents Cup in South Korea.

KEEN TO SUCCEED

Seeing them win Majors, doing something I've done before and want to do again, that gives me motivation.

RORY MCILROY on the pressure his main rivals are putting on him

"If you look over the course of the last 12 months, yeah, they have won more than I have, more Majors, sure. I think that's an accurate representation," McIlroy said.

"I want to win tournaments again. Seeing them win Majors, doing something I've done before and want to do again, that gives me motivation. I want to get my game back to the level where it has been and can be again."

Spieth has won seven times in the past 12 months while McIlroy has managed only three wins and Day has made his long-awaited Major win breakthrough.

Seeing them fight for titles and top ranking has fans excited for next year, although McIlroy warned that Americans Ricky Fowler and Dustin Johnson are among those fighting to join the rivalry at the top.

"It's going to be another great PGA Tour season," said the world No. 3. "There are a lot of guys who can get to that position, not just the three of us. You have Ricky and Dustin and all the guys."

McIlroy and Rose are among players required by the PGA to play at Napa after they took part in an unsanctioned event opposite it in 2012.

Tiger Woods was planning to compete as well but his appearance was delayed to next year due to injury, the latest in a string of ailments that have rendered him an afterthought rather than a contender.

An ankle injury playing football in July kept McIlroy from playing the British Open and his return at the PGA Championship in August was less than he wanted in defending a title. But it has helped the Northern Irishman take a fresh look at the start of his US campaign.

"Coming back at the PGA for me was a start of a new season in a way," he said. "So sort of been like two mini-seasons a little bit. This is just the continuation of that. I'm in the middle of a nice little run to the end of the year."

That means making a push for the European crown and improving his game. "My game is in good shape. I needed to work on a couple things and I did," McIlroy said. "I want to end the season well. I want to win the Race to Dubai."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'HOT START NEEDED TO DETHRONE TOP RIVALS'. Print Edition | Subscribe