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By Steve Keating
PONTE VEDRA, Fla. (Reuters) - For Rory McIlroy there are good and bad top five finishes but anything except a win at this week's Players Championship would be a disappointment as he looks to make history by becoming the first man to retain his title at golf's unofficial fifth major.
It has been a remarkably consistent season for McIlroy, who has not placed outside the top five since last year's Tour Championships, but the 30-year-old has been missing the finishing touch he will need to find if he is take home the PGA Tour's flagship event for a second successive time.
Some of golf's greatest champions, including Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Nick Price, have won the Players title but none successfully defended their crown.
"It is an opportunity for sure," McIlroy told reporters on Tuesday after practice at TPC Sawgrass. "I don't think you ever need an extra motivation when you come to this golf tournament but to be the first one to defend here would be very cool.
"I'm sure there's been people in the past that have had their chances to defend and finished well up there. I'd love to give myself a chance.
"If I can keep playing the way I've been playing and get myself into contention on Sunday, it would be something extra to play for."
McIlroy arrives at the Pete Dye masterpiece course coming off one of those bad top five results after seeing his chance for a win on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational disappear with a wobbly final round four-over 76 that included a pair of double-bogeys that dropped him into a tie for fifth.
Good or bad, Northern Irishman McIlroy's six top five results have added up to number one in the world rankings.
He has now spent 100 weeks at number one during his career but the four-time major winner will need yet another solid result at TPC Sawgrass if he is to fight off a challenge for top spot from big-hitting Spaniard Jon Rahm.
Only Woods and Norman have held the number one spot for 100 weeks or more in the ranking's 34-year history.
"I'd say last week was a bad top five," said McIlroy, who will be grouped with Rahm and world number three Brooks Koepka for the opening two rounds. "I got out early on Thursday morning and shot 66 and then sort of hung on for the rest of the week.
"And then there's other weeks where you just don't have it at all. You struggle all week and you scrape it around in 70 or 69 or whatever. It is for four days and you end up finishing T5.
"So yeah, there are such things as good and bad top fives, and last week was probably on the bad end of the spectrum."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Ponte Vedra. Editing by Ken Ferris)