Rory McIlroy looking for that Florida feeling again

The Northern Irishman has enjoyed great success in the Sunshine State and will hunt a second victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill this week

When Rory McIlroy shot 73-76 to miss the cut by a whopping seven shots at the Genesis Invitational in California two weeks ago, there were some furrowed brows among supporters of the Northern Irishman.

Everything looked off. McIlroy hit just 11 out of 28 fairways and only 50% of the greens in regulation over his two days of toil. He was weak around the greens and his putting was, well, awful.

When the dust had settled, he said later: "I went to Riviera after feeling like I worked hard but was completely unprepared because I had sort of neglected sort of all other aspects of the game.

"I stood on the range for hours a day hitting golf balls and working on my swing, but didn't play golf. Didn't chip, didn't putt, didn't do any of the things that you need to do to shoot scores."

But the good news for McIlroy was that he could draw a line under the West Coast Swing. The PGA TOUR was now heading to Florida; a place where he had enjoyed enormous success.

Flourishing in Florida

The Northern Irishman now lives in Jupiter Island, Florida, so home comforts could be one reason why he thrives.

But there's something about Florida courses that just seem to suit him.

The tone was set back in 2012 when he won the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens. Rory shot 12-under to hold off Tiger Woods by two.

Three years ago he won this week's event - the Arnold Palmer Invitational - with a tally of 18-under, three in front of Bryson DeChambeau.

And he made it a hat-trick of wins in the Sunshine State in 2019 by scooping the prestigious PLAYERS Championship. This time 16-under was enough to hold off veteran Jim Furyk by a shot.

McIlroy remains the defending champion at TPC Sawgrass as last year's PLAYERS was cancelled after round one when golf went into lockdown.

Starting with his victory at Bay Hill in 2018, McIlroy's last six starts in Florida show two wins, a fifth and two top sixes. As for Bay Hill, he's not finished outside the top six in each of the last four years following T11 on debut in 2015.

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So, did McIlroy bounce back from his Riviera humbling when the PGA TOUR pitched up in Florida again last week? Of course he did. Despite taking on a world-class field at the WGC-Workday Championship, Rory fired 69-70-66-71 to share sixth spot at The Concession.

He said afterwards: "There was signs that there's some good stuff in there. I think if anything I felt good with the putter this week, changed from the spider back to the blade which felt good, which was nice.

"A little better off the tee as well. Wedges are good. It's sort of when I get into 8-iron down to 4-iron is where I'm sort of struggling. I struggled on the par 3s today, I had some really loose shots and made three bogeys on the par 3s because of tee shots.

"Still got a little bit of work to do. I guess if I can come to a World Golf Championship with the best players in the world and not feel like I'm my best and still contend, I guess that's a good sign."

Florida had been kind to him once more and he'll hope that continues at Bay Hill. The betting markets certainly think so and McIlroy is the clear favourite at 8/1 with Paddy Power to win this week's API.

Rory spoke briefly to the press on Wednesday. Here's what he had to say ahead of his bid to win Arnie's event for a second time.

On returning to Arnie's event and what it means

"I first played this event back in 2015, which I probably should have played it sooner, but I just never was able to get the chance to or have the chance to. So I said in 2015, when I first played, that I'll try to never miss it again, so I've kept my word, up until this point, I'm back again.

"And it's been a wonderful course for me, I played well here in the past, it's nice to be a past champion and looking forward to another great week here in Orlando."

On the run of wins for International players - currently five in a row - at Bay Hill

"I don't think this course suits Internationals more than anyone else. I honestly just think that more internationals play in this event than most other PGA TOUR events.

"And these things go in cycles and I wouldn't look too much into it. But, yeah, it is interesting that a lot of Internationals have won here the last few years."

McIlroy has a fantastic course record at Bay Hill
McIlroy has a fantastic course record at Bay Hill

On the current state of his game

"I'm feeling a little better about it. I didn't have a great week at Riviera a couple weeks ago, but then had a bit of a better week last week at The Concession. Still trying to iron out a couple of things that I feel like I can do better.

"But I saw some positive signs last week, and always coming back to a course where you've had some good memories and that always helps too when you sort of feel a little bit better about yourself. So, yeah, you know, I finished decent last week and hopefully can build on that this week."

On next week's PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass

"It's always cool to defend a title. We get to do it a little bit, if you're lucky enough to win some tournaments. But it's always nice to get into that position to defend a title.

"And I was looking forward to doing it last year and it obviously got cut short. So looking forward to getting back up there to Sawgrass next week, but I've got my full attention this week here at Bay Hill and then I'll turn my attention to there."

McIlroy is 12/1 with Paddy Power to win next week's PLAYERS Championship. That makes him second favourite behind 10/1 Dustin Johnson.