Rory McIlroy hopes to make history this weekend by becoming the first player to win the players’ championship at Sawgrass two years in a row.
McIlroy returned to world number one last month and finished seven times in the top five on the PGA Tour at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The Northern Irishman defeated Jim Furyk to secure the title last year.
“This week last year was a huge one for me when it came to removing the monkey from my back,” said the 30-year-old.
“I had a few tight calls and couldn’t get through the door and claim a win.
“I was able to do it here and I had a great year and I won it several times.”
The four-time winner added: “There are a lot of similarities between this year and last year in how I played the first events of the year.
“I gave myself a few chances, I could not really capitalize and it would be wonderful to reproduce what happened last year.
“This is an opportunity for sure. I don’t think you ever need extra motivation when you come to this tournament, but being the first to defend here would be very cool.”
“Missing the cup and the false identity card”
Recalling his tournament debut in 2009, when he had just turned 20 a few days earlier, McIlroy added: “The first year I played here, the weekend before I was in Vegas for a combat and that I probably haven’t prepared the best possible way.
“I missed the cut and ended up getting kicked out of bars in Jax [Jacksonville] Beach to have a false identity card. So I have come a long way! “
A tie for fifth place in last week’s tournament has seen McIlroy join Tiger Woods as the only player in the past 20 years to record seven consecutive top five on the PGA Tour, a streak that dates back to the season. last one which includes two wins.
“Good top five and bad”
However, the 2014 Open winner admits that there are good and bad five, Bay Hill Sundays fall into the latter category.
“I would say last week was a bad top five,” added McIlroy. “I had a good draw, I went out early Thursday morning and shot 66, then hung on for the rest of the week.
“There are other weeks when you just don’t have it at all and hang on, you struggle all week and you scratch it in 70 or 69 for four days and end up finishing T5.
“I finished fifth at Torrey Pines last year and I swear it was one of the best first five times I have ever had. I walked away from this week thinking I would have nothing got more out of my golf game at the end of the week. “
Celebrating 100 weeks as the world’s number one
McIlroy has now spent a total of 100 weeks as the world number one, and while this is a far cry from Tiger Woods’ 683 record, he is naturally pleased to have regained first place for the first time since September 2015.
“I am very proud to think that I spent two years of my career at the top of the world ranking,” added McIlroy.
“I can’t understand 683 (weeks), it’s amazing. I don’t think anyone can say enough about what Tiger did during this round of golf. It’s just crazy.
“The way I got there number one this time was sort of an anti-climax. I got there using a mathematical algorithm more than anything else, but I still made sure to celebrate the milestone.
“On Sunday evening in Riviera, I made sure to go out and have a drink with Harry (Diamond, his caddy) and some friends, especially for Harry because he took over in mid-2017 and we were on this path of injuries and not playing my best all the way back to the top of the world. “