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Rory McIlroy poses huge threat in race for top spot, says Jordan Spieth

By Frank Brownlow

Published 20/01/2016

Quality: Rory McIlroy (second left), Jordan Spieth (second right), Henrik Stenson (left) and Rickie Fowler in Abu Dhabi yesterday
Quality: Rory McIlroy (second left), Jordan Spieth (second right), Henrik Stenson (left) and Rickie Fowler in Abu Dhabi yesterday

Rory McIlroy poses a "scary" challenge in the race to be world number one by the end of the year, according to Jordan Spieth.

The current world number one started 2016 in stunning fashion by winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii 10 days ago by a whopping eight shots.

But, ahead of his showdown with McIlroy in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship - which starts tomorrow - Spieth is sure the Ulsterman will come back stronger than ever after a - by his own sky high standards - relatively disappointing 2015.

McIlroy and Spieth will play with each other in the first two rounds - along with Rickie Fowler - setting the tone for a season when they are expected to battle it out at the game's summit.

After having laser surgery on his eyes before Christmas, McIlroy has been in Dubai honing his swing under the guidance of coach Michael Bannon.

"I didn't know he was playing. I'll probably withdraw now," Spieth joked.

On a more serious note, the American continued: "In a season that he considered lost, he still came back and ended up winning the Race To Dubai and that proves what a player he is.

"I'm sure there are very few players who have been working harder than he is to make this season his best season yet - and that is scary.

"Hopefully I can prevent that to an extent."

The 22-year-old is clear in his objectives for the campaign ahead.

"I would like to contend in a couple of majors on Sunday and I'd like to win at least one of them," Spieth said.

"I'd also like to represent the United States in not only the Olympics but also the Ryder Cup.

"It would be great to get a couple of wins, not only for myself but for my country."

Both Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson are also in a quality field in Abu Dhabi.

But there is no Jamie Donaldson, the Welshman who won the 2012 Irish Open at Royal Portrush ruled out by a nasty injury sustained while working in his garden with a chainsaw.

Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey are also in action.

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