Spotlight on: Rory McIlroy looking for a second win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

The Northern Irishman lifted the trophy at Bay Hill in 2018 and has a plan for success but he admits the course set-up poses a different challenge this year.

It was always a big ambition for Arnold Palmer to get Rory McIlroy to play his event at Bay Hill.

Arnie would rib Rory about his absence each year but thankfully before Palmer passed away in 2016, McIlroy had already caved in.

The perfect story would have been the two golfing greats sharing a word on the 18th green as McIlroy lifted the trophy.

Sadly, that didn't happen although Arnie did get to see flashes of a future Bay Hill champion when Rory shot a 66 on the way to tied 11th on debut and closed with a 65 in 2016, the last time the tournament host would see his PGA Tour event played.

Arnold Palmer will be in the thoughts of McIlroy and everyone else taking part in Florida this week.

And, for Rory, everything looks in place for a second win following his three-shot victory four years ago.

He has one of the best course records of anyone in the field and arrives at the event showing some promising early-season form.

Here are some of the key lines from the World No.5's Arnold Palmer Invitational press conference on Wednesday afternoon:

McIlroy on playing the tournament for an eighth time

"It's always good to be back at Bay Hill. I didn't play this event for the first few years of my career and finally came here in 2015, and I don't think I've missed a tournament since.

"We all know what Arnold Palmer means to the PGA Tour and to the game of golf in general. So it's always nice to be here and try to sort of remember his legacy and remember what he meant to everyone.

"He was probably the catalyst with maybe a few other guys of why we're here today and why the game of professional golf is at such a high level.

"So nice to be here, nice to pay our respects. Looking forward to another good week."

McIlroy on the key to his strong Bay Hill record

"It's one of these courses that I don't feel like I have to do anything special to compete. I can play within myself.

"You take care of the par 5s here. You play conservatively the rest of the way, especially how the golf course here has been set up the past few years. You play for your pars, and then you try to pick off birdies on the par 5s and some of the easier holes.

Rory McIlroy watches his shot from the 12th tee during the second round of the BMW Championship

"If you just keep doing that day after day, you're going to find yourself around the top of the leaderboard.

"Yeah, it's been a course that's fit my eye from the first time I played here, and just one of those courses that I enjoy coming back to and feel like I can contend at."

McIlroy on this year's course set-up

"It's a different course set-up this year. It's a departure from what they've done the last few years.

"The rough is thick off the fairways, but then what they've done is they've taken out a lot of these runoff areas off the greens where historically it's been you'd miss a green and run off and you'd still have the chip off short grass, for example, and now that's all been filled in with rough.

"There's just so many areas that there were runoffs and sort of tight areas, which I think lends itself to the better chippers of the golf ball, and that's been sort of taken away this year.

"I don't quite understand why they've done that, but it's definitely a different test than one in previous years."

McIlroy on the state of his game

"I felt like the three tournaments that I've played this year, I've played pretty well. I had a pretty solid week at Riviera without doing anything really special. I had a good weekend.

"I think just more of the same. I've driven the ball pretty well. I've seen a bit of improvement in iron play. My short game's been really good. If anything, just getting the consistency to a point where I feel like I can play like that day in and day out.

"But the game feels good, so just sort of trying to keep doing what I'm doing."

McIlroy's course form

McIlroy has reeled off five straight top 10s at Bay Hill, including his victory in 2018.

2021 - 10th (66-71-72-76)

2020 - 5th (66-73-73-76)

2019 - 6th (72-70-66-72)

2018 - 1st (69-70-67-64)

2017 - 4th (74-71-65-69)

2016 - 27th (75-67-75-65)

2015 - 11th (70-66-71-70)

McIlroy's record in Florida

McIlroy has 20 PGA Tour wins to his name and three have come in Florida - the 2012 Honda Classic, this event in 2018 and the 2019 Players Championship.

Looking at his last eight starts in the Sunshine State, Rory has two wins, four further top 10s and two missed cuts.

McIlroy's current form and stats

Since the calendar flipped to 2022, he's played three times.

He was 12th at the Abu Dhabi Championship, had a golden chance to win the Dubai Desert Classic before finishing third and, in his one PGA Tour start, shot 67-68 on the weekend to place 10th in the Genesis Invitational in California.

Stretch a little further back and he's finished tied 18th or better in each of his last eight worldwide starts.

It can often hold him back but, on the stats, McIlroy has gained over five strokes on the greens in each of his last two events.

He ranked 6th for SG: Putting (5.177) at the Genesis and 8th for SGP (5.540) in Dubai.

McIlroy is driving the ball well - in the top 15 for SG: Off The Tee in all of his three 2022 starts - but hasn't ranked in the top 35 for SG: Approach so far.

READ MORE: Scottie Scheffler: Rested and excited about a tough challenge at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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