Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 28 May 2016

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Jordan Spieth throws down the gauntlet to Rory McIlroy and Jason Day

By Liam Kelly

Published 12/01/2016

Early starter: Jordan
Spieth celebrates his
Hyundai Tournament
of Champions victory
with his family
Early starter: Jordan Spieth celebrates his Hyundai Tournament of Champions victory with his family

Jordan Spieth, the smiling and polite assassin, stomped all over an elite field in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in sunny Kapalua, Hawaii and laid down a marker for the season.

Take note, Rory McIlroy. Take that, Jason Day. A 30-under-par demolition derby left nearest challenger Patrick Reed eight shots adrift of the Texan who claimed his seventh PGA Tour victory and confirmed his status as World No.1.

In the last 36 years, only Tiger Woods notched up seven wins before the age of 23, but more important than the statistics was the continuation of Spieth's winning 2015 form.

He knows that with each success, the focus becomes more intense, the pressure to maintain his level of achievement increases. He is fully aware and totally prepared to shut out the noise from outside his team camp as much as possible, and keep doing what he does best - play seriously impressive golf.

"The calendar changed, we're still there. There is no reason that my game should change with the calendar. If anything, I felt we have even improved in this off season," he said.

Spieth shrugs off comparisons with Woods, but acknowledges that after his wins in the 2015 Masters and US Open, and his contending strongly in the Open Championship and the US PGA, that the expectations and scrutiny will be intense this year.

"It's the target on my back. It's just what comes with what I love to do. I guess accepting that is the first step," he said.

"Some people aren't going to like your swing, the way you grip the club, it's just everything's under a microscopes," he said.

Spieth and McIlroy will have their first shared tournament outing of the year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship the UAE from January 21-24.

Meanwhile, top Irish golfers preparing for duty this week will spare a special thought for the late Christy O'Connor Junior, whose funeral takes place today in his native Galway.

Darren Clarke and Shane Lowry are in Kuala Lumpur for the EurAsia Cup match between top stars of Europe and Asia, which starts next Friday.

Following his solid joint-sixth finish in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Padraig Harrington remains in Hawaii to play in the Sony Open, beginning on Thursday.

Michael Hoey, Paul Dunne, Kevin Phelan and Ruaidhri McGee are in South Africa for the Joburg Open, also teeing off on Thursday.

Tributes have been paid and will continue to be paid to Christy Junior, who knew first hand the requirement to forge on through the pain of loss and keep the show on the road.

That show has a number of strands this week which will be of keen interest to Irish and European golf followers as Clarke and Lowry embark on new challenges.

Skipper Clarke is tuning up for his captaincy later in the year of the Ryder Cup side. Lowry wants to stake a claim for a place in the team to face the USA at Hazeltine from September 30-October 2. The proud Offaly man is eager to get into action.

"I am looking forward to it -to play for Europe at any level is an honour, but to be able to do it as a professional playing alongside so many great players is going to be fantastic," he said.

"A lot of the lads on our team are looking to qualify for the Ryder Cup, and this week gives us a great chance to show Darren what we are capable of."

The inaugural event in 2014 finished in a 10-10 draw, so both teams are keen for the bragging rights as first winners.

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