Rory McIlroy on course for busy time in run-up to Masters

Pádraig Harrington seeks to break in to top 50, while Shane Lowry makes good PGA start

Rory McIlroy: the world number three will play six weeks out of the next eight in a packed early-season schedule. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy: the world number three will play six weeks out of the next eight in a packed early-season schedule. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images

 

For someone with a deep reverence for golf history, it was only a matter of time before Rory McIlroy added Riviera – the course known as “Hogan’s Alley” for the past deeds of Ben Hogan – to his schedule.

This is the year and the Northern Irishman’s debut in the Northern Trust Open this week also marks a busier build-up to the US Masters than at any stage of his career.

McIlroy – who got rid of the winter rust with a couple of outings on the European Tour’s Desert Swing – is set to play six of the next eight weeks, having also confirmed his participation in next month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

McIlroy’s confirmed schedule up to the Masters will see him play three straight weeks: at Riviera, at next week’s Honda Classic and at the following week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Second Captains

After a one-week break, missing the Valspar, the world number three will return for Arnie’s tournament at Bay Hill followed by his defence of the WGC-Dell Matchplay Championship in Austin, Texas. Then, a further week’s break will be followed by the Masters. Six in eight, it is new territory at this time of the season for McIlroy.

Ankle injury

The lure of playing the old LA Open – now under the Northern Trust banner – at Riviera was particularly appealing to McIlroy. The tournament was pencilled in as the starting base for his stateside schedule with the additional presence of world number one Jordan Spieth adding to the tournament’s appeal as the pair conjure up a sporting rivalry.

McIlroy’s two appearances on tour this season failed to produce any wins, as he finished sixth in Abu Dhabi and third in Dubai. Having spent the past week practising in Florida, McIlroy will make a one-stop trip to the US’s pacific coast for this final event of the West Coast Swing, citing the “many legends of the game who have played and won at this iconic venue throughout its long history” as a reason for adding it to his playing schedule.

Final chance

Harrington defends his Honda Classic title next week but the Northern Trust Open represents his final chance to break into the world’s top 50 which would earn him a place in the field for the no-cut WGC-Cadillac championship in Doral.

To earn an invite to the Masters, Harrington will either have to break into the world’s top 50 or win a tournament on PGA Tour. In four outings so far this year, the Dubliner has missed just one cut – in Phoenix – and got onto the fringes of contention in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions (when he finished sixth) and again in Pebble Beach, only to fall away in the final round to finish in tied 21st.

Room for improvement

Shane Lowry, meanwhile, slipped two places to 23rd in the latest world rankings. A tied-41st finish at Pebble Beach to go with his tied-sixth at Phoenix and his tied-13th at Torrey Pines made for a fruitful opening foray on the PGA Tour.

The Offaly man has a one-week break from tournament play before returning stateside for back-to-back weeks at the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac championship.

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