Record-breaking Masters champion Jordan Spieth is eager to challenge Rory McIlroy for world No.1 as golf celebrates its youthful new superstar and an emerging rivalry.
It once seemed unlikely that golf’s No.1 and No.2 players would present a much more youthful face for the sport than the top duo in tennis.
But that’s the case now with McIlroy (25) and Spieth (21) a combined 14 years younger than Novak Djokovic (27) and Roger Federer (33).
Spieth climbed to No.2 after dominating the Masters in a manner reminiscent of Tiger Woods in his pomp to win by four strokes from major champions Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose on Sunday.
Showing staggering composure and maturity, Spieth smashed a handful of Masters records en route to winning at 18-under-270 with a closing 70 when never really threatened.
He reached 19-under late in the final round, the first time the score has been reached in Masters history.
He tied Woods’ tournament record and set new marks for 54-hole (200) and 36-hole (130) scoring, had more birdies (28) than anyone previously and became the youngest first round leader in Masters history.
He’s now had two wins and two seconds in his last four tournaments – a run of success he attributes to learning how to handle final rounds in contention when he blitzed the Australian Open last November with a closing eight-under 63 to win by six.
That win prompted McIlroy, who was in the field, to tweet: “You could give me another 100 rounds today at The Australian and I wouldn’t sniff 63.”
After finishing fourth in the Masters – six shots behind Spieth – with a closing 66, McIlroy offered further praise.
“It’s awfully impressive,” he said. “It’s nice to get your major tally up and running at an early stage in your career. It’s great for the game, and I’m sure there will be many more.”
Now the two appear set to slug it out for years.
Spieth made it clear he’s bent on becoming No.1, though he’s a big fan of the Northern Irishman.
“It’s going to be very difficult, but to be a large step closer is huge,” he said.
“He (McIlroy) has got four majors. That’s something I can still only dream about.
“I’ll never hit it as far as he does and I have to make up for that somewhere else. He’s an unbelievably nice guy, carries that world No.1 with class.
“As far as a rivalry right now, I look forward to getting in the heat of the moment with him a couple times in the near future and see if we can battle it out and test our games.
“We’re all looking forward to that.”
Spieth had threatened to be the next big thing for a few years, having been a successful junior and then won on the US tour at age 19, following up with a raft of top finishes including a runner-up on debut at the Masters last year.
He offered a telling insight into the reasons why he was able to tame Augusta National.
“I grew up playing a lot more than I did hitting balls on the range and just hitting the same thing over and over again,” Spieth said.
“Like Bubba (Watson), I like to see lines. I like to see shapes, and especially on the greens, I like putts that break.”
Like McIlroy, five-time major champion Mickelson is also a Spieth admirer.
“He has no weaknesses,” said Mickelson, who shot a closing 69. “He doesn’t overpower the golf course, but he plays the course strategically well.
“He plays all the shots properly. And he has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on.
“That’s something that you really can’t teach.”