Rory McIlroy returns to course that has brought the best – and worst – out of him

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy makes his 2015 PGA Tour debut in this week’s Honda Classic, an event which has brought out the best – and worst – in the world number one in recent years.

McIlroy won the tournament in 2012 to become world number one for the first time, but walked off the course during the defence of his title the following year, initially telling reporters he was in ‘’a bad place mentally’’ and then issuing a statement citing severe toothache as the reason for withdrawing.

The 25-year-old had played his first eight holes in seven over par but later admitted that was “no excuse” for quitting as he struggled to get to grips with his new equipment following his multi-million dollar deal with Nike.

Last year McIlroy looked on course to make amends in style when he opened with rounds of 63 and 66, only to card a closing 74 and eventually lose out in a play-off to Russell Henley.

This year the four-time major winner comes into the event on the back of a victory in the Dubai Desert Classic following four second places in his previous five tournaments.

The Champion course at PGA National is home to the feared “Bear Trap” on holes 15, 16 and 17 and although McIlroy concedes they can be “brutal”, he is confident of avoiding the pitfalls of the water-laden stretch.

“Sixteen gives you a little bit of a breather because it’s only a fairway wood off the tee and if you get your tee-shot away it’s a relatively straightforward second shot,” he said on Inside the PGA Tour. “But 15 and 17 are brutal.

“To contend with not just the pressure of trying to win a golf tournament but the wind and everything else, it’s a stretch of holes you just want to get through in even par and get on to the 18th tee.

“I can see myself shooting scores here. You know, I can see 63, 64, 65 out there, maybe some guys can’t. But once you get on a roll, it’s not like it’s the longest course in the world.

“You’ve just got to position your way around, and you’ve still got quite a lot of wedges in your hand but if you’re comfortable with that and you get yourself on the fairway, there’s plenty of opportunities to make birdies.”

McIlroy has been paired with big-hitting American duo Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka for the first two rounds, while defending champion Henley is alongside Ryder Cup stars Rickie Fowler and Graeme McDowell.

“Everybody talks about 15, 16, 17 and those are really tough holes. But nobody ever talks about 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,” Henley told a pre-tournament press conference.

“All the holes on the front, there’s some really difficult holes. I think the rest of the course is a little bit underrated. But it is a blast playing the Bear Trap and those holes are really visually intimidating. I’m excited to play them again for sure.”