CHIBA, Japan, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy has shrugged off a verbal jab from world number one Brooks Koepka, damping down talk of a special rivalry between the pair given the depth of talent at the top of the rankings.
The current PGA Tour Player of the Year played down comments by four-time major winner Koepka that appeared to set aside McIlroy’s claims as a serious rival, given he’s failed to snare a major since 2014.
“Parity in golf is something that is quite a real thing right now. Five people could put their hand up and say they’re the best player in the world,” the Northern Irishman said on Wednesday.
He was speaking in the wake of comments last week by Koepka in which the American was almost dismissive when giving his thoughts about McIlroy.
“I’ve been out here for, what, five years? Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour, so I just don’t view it as a rivalry,” Koepka said at the CJ Cup in South Korea, where he later withdrew with a knee injury.
All of which is true. McIlroy and Koepka have both won four majors, but McIlroy’s last triumph was in 2014, while Koepka’s have all come in the last three years.
The American had a magnificent major campaign this year, with one victory (PGA Championship), two runner-up finishes and a fourth placing.
But McIlroy, who won the PGA Tour’s season-long points race, was nonetheless voted by his peers as Player of the Year, notwithstanding his pedestrian results in the majors.
McIlroy sought to broaden the discussion on Wednesday as more than a two-man rivalry.
“I think any storyline where it’s competitive at the top is going to be good for golf,” he said on the eve of the Zozo Championship at Narashino Country Club.
“It doesn’t have to be between me and Brooks. It could be between Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson, it could be between anyone.
“I would never want to make this just between two players because I think everyone in this room knows golf is such a fickle sport and one minute you can be on the top of the world and the next minute you’re missing cuts and whatever.”
Reporting by Andrew Both; editing by Richard Pullin