Johnson, the world No1, has won his last three events to head into the season’s opening Major as hot favourite, but European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn believes McIlroy has the firepower to take down the American.
“Rory is about the only one who can stand up to Dustin the way he has been playing,” said Bjorn. “Jason (Day) and Jordan (Spieth) probably come very close but Rory is the only one who can match and even beat him if he gets his game going.
“If those two get going with their A games they are going to be very difficult to keep up with.
Rory McIlroy has been backed to beat Dustin Johnson
Thomas Bjorn believes McIlroy is the only one who can compete with Johnson
“The quality Dustin has been delivering has been unbelievable but Rory with his game should manage this course better than DJ – and better than he has done.
“This was the Major we all thought he was going to win first. It was The Open where I thought he would struggle with his ball flight.
“This should suit Rory perfectly. He drives the ball so well. People say it’s wide and there are some wide holes but there’s a couple of tee shots where you have to be spot on.
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“It’s very much dependent where Rory is with his game but he has something in him. It just looks so natural. Dustin is a bit more of a powerhouse. Rory’s more graceful.”
A windy forecast for today’s opening round does not play into McIlroy’s hands as he seeks to complete his Major set. Nor does the disruption to his build-up caused by a seven-week lay-off for a rib injury. But with wedding bells looming later this month, he is hoping for a double celebration.
“With Dustin winning three times, he’s the form player right now, so I feel like it’s been a relatively quiet build-up for me which is quite nice,” he said.
“I don’t feel like I can fly under the radar any more, but at the same time, it’s sort of felt that way to me and it’s been nice to be able to prepare and just go about my business. I’m ready to go.”