Rory McIlroy makes his 2015 PGA Tour debut this week

McIlroy, No. 1 in the world after a big 2014, headlines field for the Honda Classic

When Rory McIlroy won the Honda Classic here in 2012, it vaulted him to No. 1 in the world golf ranking.

He has had some ups and downs since, but now he returns to the Champion course at PGA National Resort & Spa as the world's top-ranked golfer once again.

McIlroy will make his 2015 PGA Tour debut Thursday, and he'll also be more at ease with that No. 1 ranking.

"I'm in a great position and I feel like I handle the position I'm in a lot better than I did a couple of years ago," McIlroy said Wednesday afternoon. "I've got more experience at it. I've spent well over a year of my career at world No. 1, so I'm pretty used to it now."

McIlroy, 25, is from Northern Ireland, but he has a home in Palm Beach Gardens. He said he has spent the past three weeks here, taking off an entire week after winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the end of January.

This will be his seventh consecutive Honda appearance, and he's ready to play in a tournament again.

"I feel the golf course is a course that sets up well for me and sort of like a hometown event these days, being in this area for the last couple years," he said. "It feels like quite a long time since I've teed it up in competition a few weeks ago. I've had a couple weeks to practice and prepare leading up to this event."

That's scary stuff for his fellow pros.

"He's playing excellent golf," reigning U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer said. "I played with him in Dubai the first two rounds. There's no weakness. The only one who can beat him, I think, is himself."

McIlroy has had an interesting history at the Honda. When he won in 2012, he held off a final-round charge by Tiger Woods, who shot an eight-under-par 62, to win by two shots. McIlroy did it by one-putting four of the last six holes.

In 2013, McIlroy was still ranked No. 1 in the world when he walked off the course halfway through his second round because of an aching wisdom tooth.

Last year, the No. 8-ranked McIlroy took the lead with an opening 63 and held it until he double-bogeyed the 16th hole on Sunday. A bogey on 17 put him one shot behind, but he reached the green of the par-five 18th in two and just missed a 12-foot eagle putt that would have given him the victory. He tapped in for birdie to get into a four-man playoff, which was won by Russell Henley.

McIlroy had top-25 finishes in his next seven events, including four top-10s. He then won the British Open, regained the No. 1 ranking with a win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and won the PGA Championship. He has finished no worse than tied for second in five of his last six events.

Perhaps best of all, he recently settled a lawsuit with his former management company.

"I feel like everything that's happened at the start of the year, it's sort of like a clear road ahead," McIlroy said. "It's so nice just to be able to focus on golf and put all my time and effort into that."

The Champion course drew compliments from the pros.

"The course is in great shape," Rickie Fowler said. "The rough is thick, the greens are good, so it's going to be a good test of golf."

"I really enjoy it because usually it's very difficult," Kaymer said. "I enjoy playing difficult golf courses where you don't need to shoot 20 under par."

"I like a golf course where you have to hit the ball fairly straight, where you have to manage the golf course, where it's not always driver from the tee box. I enjoy that, where you have to think a little more."

swaters@tribpub.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
70°