SAN FRANCISCO • Rory McIlroy is hoping the first Major of the year, the PGA Championship, can spark his game and get him back to the form that saw him reach the world No. 1 ranking earlier this year for an eighth time.
The four-time Major winner got off to a rousing start this season with a string of top-10 finishes, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit, prompting a three-month hiatus for the PGA Tour.
"Before the world sort of shut down, I was playing some really good golf," he said. "Having that break, and then coming back everything sort of changed. Everything feels different."
McIlroy has already won two PGA Championships, and while his last one in 2014 also accounts for his most recent Major, he has won at TPC Harding Park before.
"It's the first Major in over a year, and it would be a great week to get back into some form and give it a good run," the Northern Irishman, who clinched the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Matchplay event here, said ahead of his opening round, in a group comprising American duo Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas.
Fans will not be present as they have been barred for the remainder of the season owing to the pandemic, so instead of feeding off the gallery, McIlroy's point of reference will be the leaderboard.
"There's no feedback from anywhere else," he said. "There's even no scoreboard holders, so you don't know how the guys in your group are doing. It's going to be like this for the foreseeable future."
McIlroy is one of several players who have held the world No. 1 ranking at some point this season, including Spain's Jon Rahm, Englishman Justin Rose and current top-ranked golfer Thomas.
They will all be in the frame, but the 31-year-old McIlroy knows if he can get his short game in order, he will be a threat to win his third PGA Championship.
Although McIlroy is not coming into form - he has not had a top-10 finish in five starts since the Tour's restart in June - he feels it is a matter of minor adjustments as he bids to end his six-year Major drought.
"My game doesn't feel that far away... It's just the sharpness and being efficient with my scoring. Turning the 73s that I've shot into 70s," he said.
"When I play these Major championships, it's (the winless streak) something that I'm obviously reminded of."
Before the world sort of shut down, I was playing some really good golf. Having that break, and then coming back everything sort of changed. Everything feels different.
RORY MCILROY, who won once and never ended lower than tied-fifth in six events this season before the coronavirus hiatus.
That lingering sense of underachievement is also what drives Thomas as he bids to earn just his second Major success after the 2017 PGA Championship.
Last Sunday, the 27-year-old won the WGC-St Jude Invitational to become the third-youngest player to rack up 13 Tour victories, behind only Woods and Jack Nicklaus. But his Major record is nowhere as stellar, with only one other top-10 finish at the 2017 US Open.
Becoming world No. 1 for the second time in his career has, however, boosted his belief.
"I've got myself to the point now where I do have it (the top ranking) back, which is an awesome feeling. But it's not like I'm out here playing this week to... try and grow my lead. I'm out here for one reason, it's just to try to win a golf tournament."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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