Golf | Rory McIlroy targets hot start

Napa – Third-ranked Rory McIlroy, still
leading the European Tour’s Race to Dubai with six weeks remaining in the
campaign, launches his bid for a 2015-16 US PGA Tour crown on Thursday.

The new American season tees off just 18
days after the Tour Championship ended the old one as McIlroy, a four-time
major champion, and England’s seventh-ranked Justin Rose, the 2013 US Open
winner, top the names at the Open.

“I’m happy to be here and to get a bit
of a start,” McIlroy said on Wednesday. “It seems like any time I
come back to the PGA Tour in February, guys have played eight or 10 events and
I’m trying to play catch up. I want to get my season off to a good start.”

Many of McIlroy’s top rivals are resting
now. US star Jordan Spieth won the Masters and US Open as well as the Tour
Championship and the US PGA Tour playoff bonus of $10 million in taking the
world number one ranking last month while Australian Jason Day, who captured his
first major at the PGA Championship in August, ranks second. Both will wait to
begin their 2015-16 campaigns.

“If you look over the course of the
last 12 months, yeah, they have won more than I have, more majors sure. I think
that’s an accurate representation,” McIlroy said.

“I want to win tournaments again.
Seeing them win majors, doing something I’ve done before and want to do again,
that gives me motivation. I want to get my game back to the level where it has
been and can be again.”

Spieth has won seven times in the past 12
months while McIlroy has managed only three wins and Day has made his
long-awaited major win breakthrough.

Seeing them fight for titles and top
ranking has golf fans excited for 2016, although McIlroy warned that Americans
Ricky Fowler and Dustin Johnson are among those fighting to join the rivalry at
the top.

“It’s going to be another great PGA
Tour season,” McIlroy said. “There’s a lot of guys who can get to
that position, not just the three of us. You have Ricky and Dustin and all the
guys. The narrative is this at the minute but you can’t forget about all the
talent and depth the PGA has as well.”

McIlroy and Rose are among players the PGA
required to play at Napa after they took part in an unsanctioned event opposite
it in 2012. Tiger Woods was planning to compete as well but his appearance was
delayed to 2016 due to injury, the latest in a string of ailments that have
rendered him an afterthought rather than a contender as 2016 looms.

An ankle injury playing football with pals
in July kept McIlroy from playing the British Open and his return at the PGA
Championship in August was less than he wanted in defending a title. But it has
helped McIlroy take a fresh look at the start of his US campaign.

“Coming back at the PGA for me was a
start of a new season in a way,” McIlroy said. “So sort of been like
two mini-seasons a little bit. This is just the continuation of that. I’m in
the middle of a nice little run to the end of the year.”

That means making a push for the European
crown and improving his game.

“I’m happier with my game than I was a
couple of weeks ago. My game is in good shape. I needed to work on a couple
things and I did,” McIlroy said. “I’m focused on going forward. I
want to end the season well. I want to win the Race to Dubai on the European

McIlroy plans a two-month break after Dubai
and figures to start 2016 in the Middle East as well.

“I’ll rest a little bit, try and get
my body in the shape it was in before I got injured and hit the ground running
in the Middle East at the start of the year,” he said.

“I’m ready to get back into play and
compete again. It was a good season. It wasn’t a great season. A great season
is defined by major championships. It was a lost year in that I didn’t add to
that tally.”

McIlroy was disappointed not to add to his
major trophy haul in the past season but again will take aim at completing a
career Grand Slam next April at the Masters.

“There’s always the next goal or the
next challenge,” said McIlroy. “It’s not about being disappointed at
not getting certain goals but picking yourself up and working hard to achieve
the next goal.”

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