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Rory McIlroy insists he's ready to remain top of world despite rise of Jordan Spieth

By Liam Kelly

Does professional golf really need a new Big Two rivalry?

Judging by the clamour to elevate the status of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth to the level of the epic Jack Nicklaus v Arnold Palmer battles of the past, this is exactly what the sport requires.

There is an argument that it has already happened by virtue of McIlroy and Spieth  occupying the World No 1 and No 2 positions respectively.

But hey, let's give these guys some breathing space. A genuine 'Big Two' construct arises in a natural manner.

Ideally, the protagonists have to bring some heat and dislike, or at least an aloofness, to their 'relationship.'

They also have to develop some history between them, a record of head-to-head meetings with ebb and flow on both sides at various times.

There is no need to artificially thrust any added pressure on their young shoulders.

Ulsterman McIlroy certainly seems to agree.

Asked yesterday if the "rivalry" got his competitive juices flowing, he said: "Not really because last year it was Rickie, this year it's Jordan, might be someone else, could have been Tiger. There have been four or five rivalries over the past year.

"It doesn't really do anything for me."

McIlroy has just turned 26, Spieth is only 21. Yes, the American has burst on the scene in remarkable fashion to claim his Masters jacket and the Valspar Championship recently.

And yes, McIlroy has knocked off four Majors in the last four years. Terrific. Great.

Both of these young men will hopefully be around for a long time to come, so what's the rush to pit them against each other like fighting cocks?

It might have been just a tad more subtle if the PGA Tour had separated McIlroy and Spieth instead of jamming them together into the opening two rounds of The Players Championship at Sawgrass today.

Jason Day is the 'gooseberry' in the trio while all eyes and the TV cameras will be trained on the World No 1 and No 2, but that's showbiz, and it's all about the ratings.

A Sunday finale scenario in which the two of them battle down the stretch with the dangerous 17th to play at Sawgrass would be thrilling.

They might have profited by being kept apart in the draw for the opening 36 holes, and then fire up the booster jets on Saturday and Sunday.

Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson have the credentials to make a strong European bid for glory, as does holder Martin Kaymer.

Ulster pair Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke will also tee it up.

And what of the Tiger, who has much to ponder?

He goes into the tournament feeling hurt and vulnerable after the end of his three-year relationship with skier Lindsey Vonn.

"It (the break-up) does affect me. It is tough," said Woods.

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