McIlroy ready for ultimate do-over at Players Championship

PGA: Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard - Third Round

By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) - The PGA Tour may not allow mulligans but Rory McIlroy will enjoy the ultimate do-over this week when he gets a fresh start at defending his Players Championship crown after his poor start last year was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McIlroy was nine shots back of leader Hideki Matsuyama and in a share of 83rd place after an even-par 72 in the first round last year before golf's unofficial fifth major was cancelled later that day due to coronavirus concerns.

"It's nice, like I get another bite at the cherry," McIlroy said on Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

"Last year was obviously very surreal, difficult. Yeah, I think at least we know this year the tournament is not going to be cancelled, unless something pretty crazy happens again."

The Northern Irishman's game was in far better shape ahead of the 2020 Players Championship as he arrived at TPC Sawgrass ranked number one in the world and having not placed outside the top five since August 2019.

McIlroy has since dropped to 11th in the rankings and may be far removed from his Players Championship triumph but the four-times major champion is hopeful he can get a boost from his status as defending champion.

"There's been no one else's name added to the trophy after mine," said McIlroy.

"It's hard when you're so far removed from that win. It was two years ago, and a lot has happened since. I'll still try to rekindle those feelings and memories from two years ago, and hopefully that gives me the spark that I need to get my game in shape."

McIlroy arrives at the Pete Dye masterpiece course fresh off a share of 10th place at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he began the final round within striking distance of the top of the leaderboard but struggled to a closing four-over-par 76.

An 18-times winner of the PGA Tour, McIlroy said his focus for now is finding consistency in his ball-striking.

"The good golf is in there, and I feel capable of going out and shooting good scores any week that I play on any golf course that I play," said McIlroy.

"But it's the days where you don't feel so good that you need to manage it and get it around in a couple under par. That's the challenge for me right now."

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)