McIlroy in confident mood as he begins countdown to US Masters

Honda classic has brought the best and the worst out of the Irishman in recent years

 Rory McIlroy  in action during the pro-am  for The Honda Classic on the Champions Course at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo:  David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy in action during the pro-am for The Honda Classic on the Champions Course at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

 

World number one Rory McIlroy begins the countdown to his ‘career Grand Slam’ bid at the US Masters in this week’s Honda Classic and says he feels entirely comfortable being the face of the sport.

The decline of Tiger Woods, who is on a break from the game after his form and injury problems, only heightens the attention on McIlroy who has three events before he tees up at Augusta looking to win all four Majors by the age of 25.

Asked whether he was comfortable being the main star of the sport, McIlroy was emphatic in his response.

“Yes. Because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I would be wasting my time if I was out there practising as much as I do and putting as much into it if I didn’t want to be in this position, and wasting the people’s time around me, as well, that helped me get to this point,” he said on the eve of the tournament.

“Of course I want to be that guy. 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.”

His goals

“I feel 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,” he said. Having resolved his legal problems with his former agents earlier this month and with a victory in Dubai under his belt, McIlroy looks and sounds relaxed.

“I really haven’t felt as settled since coming in here, 2011, 2012. I feel like everything that’s happened at the start of this year, it’s like a clear road ahead. It’s so nice just to be able to focus on golf and put all my time and effort into that.”

The Honda Classic is an event which has brought out the best and worst of the Co Down man in recent years.

McIlroy won the tournament in 2012 to become world number one for the first time, but walked off the course during the defence of his title the following year, initially telling reporters he was in “a bad place mentally” and then issuing a statement citing severe toothache as the reason for withdrawing.

No excuse

Last year McIlroy looked on course to make amends in style when he opened with rounds of 63 and 66, only to card a closing 74 and eventually lose out in a play-off to Russell Henley.

He comes into this event on the back of a victory in the Dubai Desert Classic following four second-place finishes in his previous five tournaments.

The Champion course at PGA National is home to the feared “Bear Trap” on holes 15, 16 and 17 and although McIlroy concedes they can be “brutal”, he is confident of avoiding the pitfalls of the water-laden stretch.

“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,” he said. “But 15 and 17 are brutal.”

McIlroy has been paired with Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka for the first two rounds, while defending champion Henley is alongside Ryder Cup stars Rickie Fowler and Graeme McDowell. Pádraig Harrington, , is also in the field of an event he won back in 2005.

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