The four-time major winner makes his first PGA Tour appearance of 2015 on the back of a victory in the Dubai Desert Classic, following four second places in his previous five tournaments.
The tournament has produced the best and worst of McIlroy through the years, with victory in 2012 to become world No 1 being followed by a first round withdrawal 12 months later.??
McIlroy was seven-over from just eight holes when he walked off the course with “severe toothache”,??but later admitted that was “no excuse” for quitting as he struggled to get to grips with his new equipment.??
The Northern Irishman appeared on course for a second victory last season, but carded a final-round 74 before eventually losing to Russell Henley in a play-off.??
Holes 15-17 at PGA National are home to the feared water-laden “Bear Trap”, but McIlroy believes he will be able to deal with the “brutal” part of the course.
“Sixteen gives you a little bit of a breather because it’s only a fairway wood off the tee and if you get your tee-shot away it’s a relatively straightforward second shot,” McIlroy said. “But 15 and 17 are brutal.
“I can see myself shooting scores here. You know, I can see 63, 64, 65 out there, maybe some guys can’t. But once you get on a roll, it’s not like it’s the longest course in the world.
“You’ve just got to position your way around, and you’ve still got quite a lot of wedges in your hand but if you’re comfortable with that and you get yourself on the fairway, there’s plenty of opportunities to make birdies.”
This??week’s event at PGA National is part of McIlroy’s low-key schedule ahead of the Masters, which will also include appearances at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and an Arnold Palmer Invitational debut prior to Augusta.
Pressure will be on the world No 1 to win the opening Major of the year in April and move closer to a potential Grand Slam, with McIlroy keen to cement his place as golf’s star attraction.??
“I want to be that guy,” McIlroy added. “I said it last year, golf is waiting for someone like that to step forward, put their hand up and win the big tournaments. ?? ?? ?? ?? ??
“Yeah, this is the position I want to be in and I want to be in it as long as I can. Ifeel like I’ve got a nice schedule going into Augusta. ??I’m not playing too much, but I’m playing just enough that I should be as sharp as possible going in there.”
McIlroy tees-off in a group alongside last week???s Northern Trust tied-runner-up Dustin Johnson and recent Phoenix Open champion Brooks Koepka ??? who feels there???s still more to come from his game this season.
Victory in Arizona was Koepka???s first on the PGA Tour, with the 24-year-old keen to replicate that performance in his home state.
???Playing in front of a home crowd is special,??? the world No 20 said. ???You don???t get to do that very often, especially here at PGA National.
???It???s special for me and especially since I???ve been playing well. I???m excited to get back here. I???ve been back here for two weeks now and things are going well.
???I???m not where I want to be, but I???m on the right path. I???ve learnt so much about my game, how to travel, how to go about things. It???s unique but I???ve learnt a lot; I???ve grown as person.???