McIlroy, Koepka to resume No.1 rivalry

Rory McIlroy (r) and Sergio Garcia practise their putting ahead of golf's return on Thursday

World No.1 Rory McIlroy will tee up at the Charles Schwab Challenge on Thursday as a star-studded field looks to mark the PGA's resumption from a three-month suspension in style.

Each of the world's top five players will be at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, with McIlroy starting in a mouth-watering group alongside world No.2 Jon Rahm and third-ranked Brooks Koepka.

"For people to have something to watch on TV where they actually don't know the outcome I think is going to be nice for them," said McIlroy.

"I'm excited. I'm excited to be back on the road and doing what I'm supposed to do: play golf and compete."

McIlroy believes the sport is perfectly suited to the new circumstances imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, but asked for patience as those involved take their first steps into a new environment.

"I think it's an important week because golf can show that we can play in a socially distant manner. We can conduct a tournament and adhere to all the safety protocols that have been put in place," he said.

"It is going to be very easy to fall back into old habits because it's just what we've done. I'd say for the viewing public just to give the players and the caddies a little bit of leeway in terms of if they see something on TV that isn't quite right."

McIlroy went on to suggest the recent sense of co-operation between those involved at the highest level could lead to more dramatic structural changes such as a merger between the PGA and European Tour.

"I think for the health of both tours ... a 'world tour' is something I've always wanted, but it has to be done the right way.

"Whether it's some European Tour events offering FedExCup points and some PGA TOUR events offering Race to Dubai points, I don't know, but just a little bit more cohesion."

Koepka made no secret of the fact he is looking to unseat McIlroy, adding an extra competitive element to their initial outing alongside Rahm.

"I've got eyes on Rory," said Koepka. "That's the goal, to get back to No.1 in the world. That's the whole point of playing: to be the best.

"If I take care of my business, then I don't see any reason why I couldn't get back to that."

There will be no play at 8.46am, with a moment's silence held in honour of George Floyd, who prosecutors claim was knelt on by police for eight minutes and 46 seconds and killed in Minneapolis last month.

The move to cancel the tee-time as a mark of respect received widespread backing with Koepka describing it as "really special", Jordan Spieth calling for the idea to be extended "however long we need to" and McIlroy praising "a wonderful gesture".