Rory McIlroy points to 'encouraging signs' ahead of Honda Classic
Rory McIlroy will look to bounce back from squandering the chance of a first win of the season in this week's Honda Classic, an event which has brought out the best - and worst - in the world number three in recent years.
McIlroy won the tournament in 2012 to become world number one for the first time but walked off the course during the defence of his title the following year, initially telling reporters he was in ''a bad place mentally'' and then issuing a statement citing severe toothache as the reason for withdrawing.
The 26-year-old had played his first eight holes in seven over par but later admitted that was ''no excuse'' for quitting as he struggled to get to grips with his new equipment following his multi-million dollar deal with Nike.
In 2014 McIlroy looked on course to make amends in style when he opened with rounds of 63 and 66, only to card a closing 74 and eventually lose out in a play-off to Russell Henley, while he missed the cut 12 months ago.
So far this season McIlroy has finished third in Abu Dhabi, sixth in Dubai and 20th in the Northern Trust Open last week, where he eagled the first hole of his final round to move into a share of the lead only to play the remaining 17 in six over par.
"There's encouraging signs, but I turned a chance to win into a top 20 at the end of the day, so that wasn't too good," McIlroy said after his closing 75 at Riviera. "I'll regroup and get ready for next week and hopefully put myself in contention again."
McIlroy has been paired with Padraig Harrington and Open champion Zach Johnson for the first two rounds at PGA National, with Harrington set to defend the title he won in dramatic fashion last year despite pulling out of the pre-tournament pro-am with a back injury.
The three-time major winner was in the final group with Ian Poulter and Patrick Reed and looked out of contention after a bogey on the fourth and a double bogey on the sixth saw him reach the turn in 38.
However, a run of four birdies on the back nine, coupled with a collapse from Poulter, saw Harrington move into the lead before a double bogey on the 17th dropped him a shot behind Daniel Berger.
A birdie on the 18th took Harrington into a play-off with Berger and a stunning approach to the second extra hole sealed a first PGA Tour victory for seven years as his American opponent found the water.
The win moved Harrington from 297th in the world rankings to 82nd, but the 44-year-old has since fallen back to 130th and conceded that he is more likely to be a vice-captain to Darren Clarke at this year's Ryder Cup than a player.
"It's like the Olympics," Harrington told Irish Golf Desk. "If I start winning and playing well, both the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are on the radar.
"As much I would like to play in both, they're long shots, real long shots. So I wouldn't be putting any money on me making the team.
"And if I'm not in the team then I would love to be there as part of Darren's backroom team. Yes, I have spoken to him and yes, we have discussed it."