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Spieth throws down the gauntlet to Rory with masterful Masters win

Golf has a superstar who is now second in the world only to McIlroy and gunning for his place at the top

Jordan Spieth’s record-setting win at the Masters could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to Rory McIlroy.

The emergence of a new star with a real feeling for the nuances of Augusta National can only bode well for the world No 1, whose closing 66 simply underlined that fact the he’s a stunningly talented athlete with the game to bring Augusta to its knees.

Four successive sub-par round (the last of them seven shots better than playing partner Tiger Woods) show that McIlroy is slowly coming to grips with what it takes to conquer the Cathedral of Pines. After all, his total of 12 under 276 would have won 75% of the 79 Masters Tournaments held so far.

Only Tiger Woods (1997) and Spieth with 18 under, Jack Nicklaus  (1965) and Ray Floyd (1976) with 17 under, Woods (2001) and Mickelson (2010) with 16 under, Ben Hogan, Ben Crenshaw (1995) and Charl Schwartzel (in 2011, 14 under) and Seve Ballesteros and Fred Couples have ever shot lower than McIlroy’s around Augusta National.

Had it not been for that opening nine of 40 on Friday or a lukewarm putter on Sunday – he made six but also had chances for birdie or eagle at the 1st (17ft), 2nd (6ft), fourth (8ft), 10th (13ft), 12th (23ft), 13th (eagle 8ft), 14th (37ft), 15th (eagle 18ft), 16th (8ft) and 17th (17ft) – Irish golf could have a Masters champion. 

Instead, golf has a superstar who is now second in the world only to McIlroy and gunning for his place at the top. 

Spieth will move to No. 2 in the world, one spot behind McIlroy, who finished fourth. Those two, along with Patrick Reed (24), Rickie Fowler (26), Hideki Matsuyama (23) and Jason Day (27) have been making plenty of noise on Tour the last two years and Nicklaus has noticed.

Reed confirmed on Sunday that he will play in the Irish Open at Royal County Down but it’s Spieth who’s looking to join the wave of young guns chasing McIlroy’s world No 1 ranking.

Spieth and McIlroy are opposite sides of the same coin. While McIlroy excels as a ball-striker, Spieth is an all rounder and far more of a feel player, which helps him compete better than most at the Masters.

“I think imagination,” Spieth said when asked how he had solved the riddle of Augusta by finishing second and first in his first two Masters. “I think very feel based.  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. 

 “But ultimately, I think it just comes down to imagination and casting things out and seeing lines.  You’re never hitting off a flat slope unless it’s a tee shot or a par 3.  Those are the only shots you hit off a flat spot out there.  Every other shot is significantly above your feet, downslope, below your feet or whatever, and you’ve just got to adapt to it.”

Spieth might have his sights set on McIlroy’s world No 1 ranking but McIlroy didn’t sound threatened when asked about his latest rival on Saturday.

“I just have to worry about myself and try and play the best that I can,” said McIlroy. “I know if I do that then that No 1 position is pretty safe. He’s obviously been playing great golf since the end of last year with a couple of wins and being in contention basically every time he plays. He’s playing very well - but I know I have the capability to do the same thing.”



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