HONOLULU (AP) — Fresh off an eight-shot victory, Jordan Spieth gets one week of rest before stepping back into spotlight. He leaves this weekend for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and his first meeting of the year with Rory McIlroy.
“I didn’t know he was playing. I’ll probably withdraw now,” Spieth jokingly said Tuesday during a conference call for the Valspar Championship.
McIlroy was in Spieth’s position a year ago – No. 1 in the world (by a greater margin), a multiple major champion, a great start to the year. What he never saw coming was an ankle injury while playing soccer that kept him out for two months and kept him from defending titles in the British Open and Bridgestone Invitational. He ended the year with a victory in the DP World Tour Championship to win the Race to Dubai.
The ankle injury slowed what could have been an interesting year between Spieth and McIlroy. Three weeks after Spieth won the Masters, McIlroy answered with victories in the Cadillac Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship. Spieth won the U.S. Open. And then McIlroy put on soccer shoes.
“In a season that he considered lost, he still came back and ended up winning the Race to Dubai, the final event. It proves what a player he is,” Spieth said. “I’m sure there’s very few people working harder than he is to make this season his best season yet, which is scary. Hopefully, I can help prevent that to an extent.”
Spieth is playing Abu Dhabi for the first time before going to the Singapore Open. He returns for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Northern Trust Open at Riviera before heading to Florida for the World Golf Championship at Doral and his title defense at the Valspar Championship.
That playoff win at the Valspar Championship seems like a long time ago considering all Spieth has done. He mentioned Tuesday that it was his first professional victory when he had to make a big putt on the final hole, in this case a 30-foot birdie on the third extra hole.
That remains true. He won the Masters by four shots and the U.S. Open with a two-putt birdie. He won the John Deere Classic when Tom Gillis hit into the water in a playoff. He won the Tour Championship by five shots. And he won at Kapalua by eight shots.