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PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth are rivals without rancor

PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth are rivals without rancor
Jordan Spieth, right, greetsRory McIlroyat the seventh tee during a practice round for the PGA Championshipon Tuesday at Whistling Strait (Jae Hong / Associated Press)

Of course we're dying for the next generation of Jack versus Arnie or Tiger versus Phil.

Who doesn't love a good rivalry, whether it's Tom Brady versus Roger Goodell or Geno Smith versus the Guy Who Broke Geno Smith's Jaw?

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Rory McIlroy versus Jordan Spieth will entertain, but there will never be bad blood between the two. Both are too classy, too friendly, too complimentary of one another.

There are no fightin' words here, not even by golf standards.

Check out how McIlroy responded Wednesday to the question of who is the best player in the world heading into the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

"If you were to go by this year, you would have to say Jordan," he replied. "If you go over the last two years, I would say it's probably a tossup between Jordan and myself. That's a hard one. ... It's all a matter of opinion."

Actually, there's something called the Official World Golf Ranking, and it says McIlroy is No. 1 by virtue of winning two majors in 2014 and twice on the PGA Tour in May.

So what's McIlroy's opinion?

"I'll tell you at the end of the week," he said.

Spieth said he is "excited" that McIlroy successfully rehabbed from the ankle injury that knocked him out of the British Open. And twice more, Spieth said he is "excited" to be grouped in the first two rounds of the PGA with McIlroy and British Open champ Zach Johnson.

"We're going to have a good time, us three, and hopefully we can all feed off each other these two days," Spieth said.

Asked if there is a particular part of McIlroy's game he envies, Spieth responded: "Sure, I wish I could hit it as far as he does. When he's driving the ball well, just like Dustin [Johnson] and Bubba [Watson], they're playing a different golf course. I certainly envy that."

Nicklaus might have envied Palmer's popularity, and Palmer surely envies Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. It's hard to imagine they would openly admit it, though.

Woods and Mickelson are opposites. If Woods has committed five minutes to an interview, he'll walk off at 4:59 with the questioner in mid-sentence. Mickelson signs autographs until his fingers cramp.

When U.S. captain Hal Sutton paired them at the 2004 Ryder Cup, it resulted in two big, fat L's — though Woods played brilliantly.

You could picture Spieth and McIlroy thriving as Ryder Cup partners, if only their countries of origin were not separated by the Atlantic Ocean. That nationality distinction, the resulting Irish brogue versus the slight Texas twang, might be the most discernible contrast between the two.

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But is that enough to make them bitter rivals? No chance.

So the rivalry will have to be fostered by competition.

At 26, McIlroy has won four majors. Spieth won two before turning 22 in July.

McIlroy said seeing Spieth win the Masters and U.S. Open "inspired" and "motivated" him.

They certainly did not make him mad or vengeful.

"I'm not surprised at all that the narrative has gone from me to Jordan and to both of us being here," McIlroy said. "We live in such a world that everything's so reactionary.

"A year ago after I won this tournament, it was the 'Rory Era,' and then Jordan wins the Masters and it's the 'Jordan Era.' Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years."

Let's hope these eras continue to collide. Golf fans will be better for it.

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