CHIBA, JAPAN (AFP) - Rory McIlroy says things are "all good" with Brooks Koepka - but the Northern Irishman does not need a reminder that he has not won a Major in five years.
World No. 1 Koepka made worldwide headlines at the CJ Cup in South Korea last week after scotching the notion of a burgeoning rivalry with second-ranked McIlroy.
"What Brooks said wasn't wrong," McIlroy told the Golf Channel during an exhibition match at Narashino Country Club, venue for this week's Zozo Championship in Japan.
McIlroy was responding after the American told AFP in an exclusive interview: "I've been out here for, what, five years. Rory hasn't won a major since I've been on the PGA Tour. So I just don't view it as a rivalry."
The comments lit up social media and made worldwide headlines, so McIlroy's response was eagerly awaited. When it came, it was measured.
"He's been the best player for a couple years, four majors. I don't think he had to remind me I hadn't won one in a while, but you know," McIlroy smiled.
"But no, I love Brooks. He's a great guy. Obviously super competitive like we all are. I can see where he's coming from. You know, we were out here. We can't control anyone else. We just have to play our own golf.
"Brooks and I are good. We're good friends. I've been really happy for him to see how good he's played the last couple of years."
But the facts are that the pair have been by some distance ahead of their peers in 2019, so any time they go head to head is going have some added spice - and like it or not, fans love a rivalry.
Each won three times last season, Koepka retained his US PGA Championship while McIlroy became only the second player after Tiger Woods to win multiple Fedex Cups.
Each has four majors, though current US PGA champion Koepka's all came in the space of two calendar years, while McIlroy's last was the 2014 Open Championship at Hoylake.
Among the 2019 wins, the pair had two head-to-head, last-group Sunday confrontations. They won one each.
McIlroy, 30, admitted Koepka, 29, "dusted him" over the final round to win the WGC-FedEx St Jude Championship.
A month later, McIlroy cited a "rivalry mentality" to get revenge over the last 18 holes at East Lake to win the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and a US$15 million (S$20.4 million) prize pot.
"He (Koepka) talked about trying to be the dominant player in the game... and I thought: 'He's going to have to go through me first'," declared McIlroy after the win.
McIlroy was then voted US PGA Tour Player of the Year award by his fellow players, ahead of Koepka.
"I said a couple of things after the Tour Championship in terms of that final round, like a little bit of a rivalry because he got one over on me in Memphis," admitted McIlroy.
"And I sort of wanted to get him back. I think that's good for the game."
The pair were due to face each other at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai next week, but Koepka's withdrawal from the CJ Cup in Jeju with a knee injury prior on Saturday morning may put that in jeopardy.