Rory McIlroy looking forward to competitive return in Mexico

Irishman facing top-class line up in the WGC-Mexico Championship at Chapultepec

It may be stretching things to suggest March 2017 witnessed the onset of golf’s great revolution, but the sport is in the midst of fascinating times.

Final preparations for the first World Golf Championship of the year, the biggest golf event to take place in Mexico, were partly overshadowed by proposals to overhaul the rules of the game to an extent not witnessed in 100 years.

Competitive intrigue at the Club de Golf Chapultepec is straightforward. Forty-nine of the world's top 50 will compete from Thursday morning, with Jason Day the only absentee, through illness.

Rory McIlroy will make his first start in seven weeks in the company of Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama. Johnson revealed on Wednesday how Mexico's altitude means a 15 per cent increase on his shot distances, with pitching wedges flying as far as 180 yards.

McIlroy wants to keep the US Masters at the back of his mind but the feeling prevails that this event also marks the starting point to his latest run at a career Grand Slam.

“Honestly, I haven’t thought much about Augusta,” said McIlroy, who is still wearing strapping to protect a damaged rib. “My biggest concern has just been getting healthy and being able to get back here. That’s what I was thinking about.

“The routine was get up early in the morning, do my rehab stuff, try to get out and see what I could do on the golf course, get back, have some treatment, do a few more exercises. It was just basically that on repeat for the last three or four weeks so that’s all I’ve really been concentrating on.

“I would say my focus was on just trying to get ready for this event and play here. I think it’s nice I get to play four rounds, see where my game is, take the week off next week, reassess, how does my body feel, how does my game feel. From there I can start to think about the Masters and what I really need to do to get ready for Augusta.”

Number six

The Mexican venue is a break from the norm and a complete contrast to Doral, where the first WGC of the year was previously held.

Tight, tree-lined fairways lead into small greens. Strategy is key. As one caddie remarked on Wednesday morning: “It is nice to have a few things to think about for once.”

On face value, this type of test plays perfectly into the hands of Jordan Spieth. The Texan has slipped to number six in the world but has a recent victory on his CV, at Pebble Beach in early February. Like McIlroy, Spieth is hardly lacking in early-season motivation; his collapse at the 2016 US Masters remains a wounding reference point.

“I think this is a good golf course for me,” said Spieth. “Who has best control from really 100 to about 150 yards is really, really important out here.

“Ultimately I’m looking to gain some momentum as we lead into the Masters. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year thus far. My putter has heated up for two days out of all the rounds I’ve played this year, so if we get that going [for four]? My greens in regulation are as good as they’ve ever been so I feel pretty good about things.

“Do I think about Augusta more and more? I think so as we get closer. If the US Open was the first major of the year, then I would think about that.”

Guardian Service