Rory McIlroy hoping it’s time for another feast at Honda Classic

PGA National course has been the scene of both highs and lows for the golfer

 Rory McIlroy  plays a bunker shot  during the  pro-am for the Honda Classic  in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy plays a bunker shot during the pro-am for the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy believes he is close to a first win since September 2016 ahead of this week’s Honda Classic, an event which has been either “feast or famine” for the four-time Major winner.

McIlroy won the tournament in 2012 to become world number one for the first time, but walked off the PGA National course during the defence of his title the following year.

He initially told reporters at the 2013 event he was in “a bad place mentally” and then issued a statement citing severe toothache as the reason for withdrawing.

The 28-year-old had played his first eight holes in seven over par but later admitted that was “no excuse” for quitting as he struggled to get to grips with his new equipment following his multi-million dollar deal with Nike.

In 2014 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 playoff to Russell Henley, while he missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

So far in 2018 the Northern Irishman has form figures of T3-2-MC-T20 as he builds up to the first Major of the year at Augusta National in April. McIlroy needs to win the Masters to complete the career Grand Slam and make it a hat-trick of European wins.

Tiger Woods plays a tee shot during the pro-am for the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Tiger Woods plays a tee shot during the pro-am for the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

“Obviously last year Sergio [Garcia] had won a tournament beforehand, Danny Willett the year before had won a tournament, but I don’t think it’s necessary,” McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference.

“To get a win under your belt going into it does make you feel a bit better but you don’t have to. I feel like that’s putting yourself under an awful lot of pressure.

“I’m close. I think positive thoughts and I’m very happy with where my game’s at. I feel like I’m just waiting for everything to sort of fit together. I feel like I’ve seen enough good things in my game over the past few weeks to know that it’s not far away.

“Feast or famine – that’s what my history’s been here. It’s a tough golf course and it magnifies if your game’s off just a touch. If you miss it by tiny margins here it can punish you quite heavily. But if you’re on, it gives you opportunities to score and that’s what’s happened.”

McIlroy admitted he was happy not to be paired with Tiger Woods again after saying the circus surrounding the 14-time Major winner in last week’s Genesis Open left him with a headache. McIlroy will partner Pádraig Harrington and Adam Scott over the first two rounds.

Woods is playing back-to-back events on the PGA Tour for the first time since August 2015 as he continues his latest comeback from injury.

“I’ve started to get that feeling again of playing tournament golf, where each and every shot counts,” said Woods, who missed the cut last week. “I’m looking at where I need to put the golf ball, I’m looking at [weather] forecasts . . . when you’re at home, who cares which way the wind is blowing?

“I’m starting to get into that flow again. I’ve missed it and it’s becoming familiar again. I’m trying to get my game solid for April [the Masters] and I’ve got some work to do.

“I’m so happy that I’m not in pain anymore. I’m still learning I’m stiffer than I used to be and can’t create the same angles I used to do naturally. Some of the shots I like to play are not the same as they used to be – that part I have to learn. This is the new norm.”

Harrington suspects that Woods still has another special performance up his sleeve.

“I do believe he will win another Major,” said the Dubliner. “His game is good enough to do that, from the outside looking in. It’s just not good enough to do it on demand.”

Harrington believes Woods’s chances are becoming increasingly remote of matching the record 18 Major titles won by Jack Nicklaus.

“I think the odds would be against him getting to 18, but I would be pretty sure, if you look at any of the great players in the game of golf, they always won a Major later in their career.

“[Woods is] never going to have the same feel as or be as good as he was back in his heyday. And he would have been better in his heyday if had more good players around him to push him.

“He got very conservative after 2001 because he could win with a conservative game. Before that, he used to hit some spectacular shots, and I think you would have seen more of that if there was more good players around him to keep pushing him.”

This week’s venue is famous for the Bear Trap, the difficult water-lined stretch from the 15th to the 17th that has gobbled up many a contender’s hopes.

“My strategy has never changed,” Irishman Harrington, the 2005 and 2015 champion, said of the stretch named after course designer Nicklaus.

“First goal is not to hit it in the water, second goal is not to hit it in the bunkers. And then hopefully you hit it on the green between them.”

Rickie Fowler is defending champion in a field, while McIlroy and Harrington are joined by fellow Irish golfers Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell and Séamus Power.

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