PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - World number one Rory McIlroy and second-ranked Jordan Spieth talked down their budding rivalry as the pair took differing approaches to the $10 million Players Championship on Wednesday.
While Masters champion Spieth rates the PGA Tour’s flagship event as the most prestigious behind the four majors, McIlroy’s late arrival, at lunchtime on tournament eve, might suggest he does not place the Players on much of a pedestal.
Not that McIlroy has contempt for the event. It is one the Northern Irishman is keen to add to his glowing resume, but given his hectic schedule in winning the WGC-Cadillac Match Play last week, he decided less was more in the lead-up.
McIlroy played seven competitive rounds in San Francisco on the way to his 10th PGA tour win, with 69 holes needed on a mammoth weekend.
Consequently he figured that 18 holes in preparation for the Players Championship, or perhaps even less, on the famed TPC Sawgrass layout would be enough as he tries to improve on his career-best tie for sixth at the event last year.
“I don’t think any tiredness is there. It’s nice to get a couple of nights in my own bed and get up here and I feel pretty fresh,” McIlroy told reporters after spending Monday and Tuesday nights at his South Florida home.
The Northern Irishman downplayed his rivalry with Spieth, with whom he will play the first two rounds in a high-profile threesome that also includes world number seven Jason Day of Australia.
“Not really, because it’s been ... like last year it was Rickie (Fowler), this year it’s Jordan, it might be someone else, could have been Tiger,” McIlroy said.
”There’s been four or five rivalries over the past year so it doesn’t really do anything for me.
“I don’t think I need any extra incentive to get the juices flowing this week. It’s one of the most important tournaments of the year.”
Spieth made his Players Championship debut last year and finished tied for fourth after carrying the lead into the final round with eventual champion Martin Kaymer.
It was one of a number of failed chances the Texan had to win big events in 2014, including the Masters, but he admitted this one hurt most of all amongst his learning experiences.
The 21-year-old says he has a long way to go before being considered McIlroy’s main adversary.
“I could certainly appreciate if I could get to where he’s at, but right now I don’t see myself there,” he said.
“There’s a lot of hard work that needs to be had to get there, and once I am there it’s certainly a huge goal of mine to make it interesting with him and possibly take over number one.”
Editing by Andrew Both