Farmers Insurance Open: No rest for the weary as Rory McIlroy ready for demanding stretch

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Steve DiMeglio
·5 min read
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SAN DIEGO – After a restful fall, Rory McIlroy’s getting busy.

The four-time major champion and former world No. 1 will play seven tournaments in an eight-week stretch to kick off his 2021, an active span that began last week in the Middle East and has moved to the sun-drenched shores of the West Coast at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

He’ll be heading next week to play in the Waste Management Phoenix Open for the first time, then take a week off, then return to California to play the Genesis Invitational north of Los Angeles, and then head back to his home state of Florida for the World Golf Championships event south of Tampa, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando and the Players Championship near the PGA Tour’s headquarters in Pone Vedra Beach.

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A tiring itinerary by the looks of things. But the fit McIlroy isn’t a bit worried about getting weary, especially seeing as his start last week in Abu Dhabi was his first since he tied for fifth in the Masters in November.

“I had a pretty quiet spell there for a few months. I just wanted to get back out and play,” McIlroy said Wednesday after his pro-am round at Torrey Pines. “I felt like I sort of stopped last year on quite a positive note the way I played at Augusta and I just wanted to try to keep that going into the start of this year. I feel like the more I play, the more I’ll get comfortable with my game and know where it is. I just thought it was a good opportunity to sort of hit the ground running.”

The busy schedule also gives McIlroy a chance to get the bitter taste of 2020 out of his mouth. McIlroy fell to No. 7 in the world rankings and didn’t add to his victory hoard of 18 PGA Tour titles and eight European Tour titles; he has won since the 2019 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. COVID-19 got in the way and McIlroy, 31, had a tough time adapting to playing without fans lining the fairways.

“It obviously wasn’t the year that I wanted last year,” he said. “Especially coming back out of the COVID lockdown and no fans, it wasn’t quite the year that I wanted or the play that I expected to have. But saw some good signs in the fall, in the Masters, and then Abu Dhabi last week I had a couple of good rounds and a couple of not-so-great ones.

“I think the game, it’s coming around. It’s definitely in a better place than it was a few months ago and I’m feeling pretty comfortable.”

He should feel pretty comfortable at Torrey Pines. In two starts, he’s tied for fifth and tied for third. And he finished in a tie for third last week in Abu Dhabi. He’ll also do a bit of recon work this week with the U.S. Open being contested on the South Course at Torrey Pines in June. If he makes the cut, he’ll play three rounds on the South Course this week, with the other on the North Course.

“It’s long, so I think I can take advantage of my length pretty well,” McIlroy said of the South. “Then if I’m on with my irons, I feel like the greens are maybe a little smaller on average than what we get week in, week out on Tour, so with the second shots, if you’re feeling it with your irons, you can really take advantage of that. And then I feel like this golf course maybe more than any others, if you’re going to miss the green, you have to miss it either long or short because if you miss it pin-high but on the sides, every green sort of slopes in a ways and it’s very hard to get it close to the hole then.

“I think little nuances like that and having that fresh in your memory for a few months’ time is always a good thing.”

But McIlroy’s attention will be on this week’s Farmers.

“I think it’s a wonderful layout for a major championship. It stands up to basically the most elite level of golf that we play, the toughest test we face all year for the most part,” McIlroy said. “But no, I’m not really going to be thinking about what they’re going to do because I just have to play the golf course that’s in front of me this week. Obviously the course is going to play much differently in June; I would expect the rough to be up a little bit more and the greens to be a little bit firmer, a little more premium on accuracy that week than maybe there is this week, but it’s not as if you’re not trying to hit the fairways this week either.

“If I can go out and play well and shoot three good scores on the South this week, it will give me some confidence going into June.”

And possibly a win on Sunday.

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