LONDON • Rory McIlroy has warned golfing rival Jordan Spieth that "self-inflicted pressure" will make it difficult for the American to follow up his blockbuster 2015 season with an equally successful 2016 campaign.
World No. 3 McIlroy knows how tough it is to maintain peak form for a sustained spell.
The Northern Irishman won two Majors last year and was considered the man to beat this year, only to get derailed by a slowish start to the season at the big tournaments and an ankle injury that kept him out of the British Open in July.
Spieth took over as world No. 1, producing a magnificent season as he captured the Masters and US Open titles and came perilously close to winning the British Open and PGA Championship.
"It will feel completely different for Jordan (in 2016)," McIlroy told the Daily Telegraph. "If you look at the statistics, at how those who have had a double-Major season have performed the next year... it's hard to back up.
A TALL ORDER
It will feel completely different for Jordan (in 2016)... There's so much expectation, so much attention and focus. And I think it is more self-inflicted pressure really as your expectations are so high.
RORY MCILROY, on how difficult it will be for world No. 1 Jordan Spieth to repeat this year's successes next year
"There's so much expectation, so much attention and focus. And I think it is more self-inflicted pressure really as your expectations are so high."
He recalled that 12 months ago, he was preparing for this year with high expectations of adding to his tally of four Major victories.
But his chances suffered a big blow in July when he ruptured a ligament in his left ankle playing football with friends.
He missed the Scottish Open and his defences at the British Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational - but was able to claw back some consolation by winning a third European Tour Order of Merit.
"This time last year, mine were through the roof coming off a great season, winning those back-to-back Majors and although I started well, I never felt I really got into my stride with the injuries and stuff," he said.
McIlroy ended this year on a high note, winning the European Tour's season-ending event in Dubai, where he felt he finally got the speed back in his swing.
He has vowed to be tournament-ready by the time the Masters comes around in April.
"It just sort of all came together in Dubai and it makes me excited about next year," said McIlroy. "I'm not saying I was undercooked this year but I definitely won't be next year.
"I'm playing (the Northern Trust Open at) Riviera (in California) for the first time and, with the WGC-Matchplay moving dates, Augusta will be my eighth event."