Rory McIlroy on rivalry talk: Brooks Koepka wasn't wrong

Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Rory McIlroy on rivalry talk: Brooks Koepka wasn't wrong

PGA Tour

Rory McIlroy on rivalry talk: Brooks Koepka wasn't wrong

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CHIBA, Japan – Those weren’t fightin’ words.

That was Rory McIlroy’s summation when asked about Brooks Koepka’s blunt response about a rivalry between the two top players in the world.

Ahead of last week’s CJ Cup, Koepka, the world No. 1, dismissed any suggestion that he and McIlroy had a rivalry because McIlroy hadn’t won any of his four majors since Koepka joined the PGA Tour full time in 2015. Koepka, on the other hand, has won his four majors since 2017.

“What Brooks said wasn’t wrong. He has been the best player in the world for the last couple of years, four majors,” McIlroy told GolfTV during Monday’s The Challenge: Japan Skins at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, the site of this week’s Zozo Championship. “Don’t think he had to remind me that I haven’t won (a major) in a while. I love Brooks, he’s a great guy. Obviously, super competitive like we all are. I can see where he’s coming from.”

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The two distanced themselves from all others last season, each winning three times. Among the wins were two head-to-head, last-group Sunday confrontations. Koepka got the better of McIlroy over the final 18 to win the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship. A month later, McIlroy turned the tables in the final round to win the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and $15 million.

Thus, Koepka, 29, was asked about a budding rivalry last week.

“I’ve been out here for – what? – five years,” Koepka told the Agence France Presse. “Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour. So, I just don’t view it as a rivalry. I’m No. 1 in the world. I’ve got an open road ahead of me. I’m not looking in the rearview mirror, so I’m not seeing it as a rivalry.”

Still, McIlroy, 30, took the high road.

“I said a few things after the Tour Championship that I approached that final round like a rivalry because he got one over on me in Memphis and I sort of wanted to get him back. I think that’s good for the game,” McIlroy said. “If you take what Brooks said out of context it becomes this big thing that it’s become. But Brooks and I are good. I’ve been really happy for him doing so well these past few years.”

Their next confrontation is unknown. Koepka wasn’t scheduled to play this week’s Zozo and withdrew from last week’s CJ Cup after aggravating a knee injury. Koepka was planning on playing next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in China but is questionable.

McIlroy is one of the headliners in the Zozo and is playing next week’s HSBC Champions. McIlroy won $60,000 in the Japan Skins Game as Jason Day took the overall title with his winnings of $210,000. Tiger Woods won $60,000 and Hideki Matsuyama won $20,000.

All four are in the Zozo field along with Justin Thomas, who won last week’s CJ Cup, Jordan Spieth, Gary Woodland, Shane Lowry, Matt Kuchar, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.

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