Rory McIlroy knows Jon Rahm could prove to be his biggest rival as he bids to reignite his Major-winning career.
While McIlroy (30) remains second in the world behind Brooks Koepka following his tie for third in the Farmers Insurance Open, Rahm could take over as World No.1 this week after finishing second to Australian Marc Leishman at Torrey Pines.
The reigning Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion must win the Waste Management Phoenix Open and hope that Koepka finishes outside the top four in the European Tour's Saudi International to become the seventh player to go to World No.1 since McIlroy last ruled in September 2015.
The Basque star (25) heads a new generation of fearless power players that McIlroy admits are his biggest challenge in the decade ahead.
"When I first came out on tour and started winning Majors, nearly a decade ago, you could probably count the guys on one hand that played a similar game to the way I played," McIlroy said at Torrey Pines.
"So where I used to get to the golf course and think, 'Okay, maybe five or 10 people have a chance', nowadays it's 40, 50, 60 guys that play that sort of game."
McIlroy was pleased to fight back from three-over after four holes and fire a closing 69 to start the season with a top-four finish for the seventh year in a row.
But it was also a positive week for Shane Lowry, who moved up one spot to 18th in the world and two places to 15th in the Ryder Cup World Points List following his share of 11th in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The Open champion joins Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Challenge Tour graduate Cormac Sharvin at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in Saudi Arabia knowing that a win would catapult him into the automatic Ryder Cup places.
Meanwhile, the Staysure Tour appears poised to announce the return of the Irish Seniors Open to the Over-50s schedule as part of Ireland's 2026 Ryder Cup countdown.
The event, which was last staged in 2010, has been pencilled in for August 23-25 with the venue yet to be decided.
Belfast's Damian Mooney leads the Irish quest for just five cards after the opening round in the 72-hole Final Stage of the Staysure Tour Qualifying School in Portugal yesterday.