MEXICO CITY -- Rory McIlroy isn’t quite sure what to expect when he tees it up at this week’s WGC-Mexico Championship.
It will be his first start since a runner-up at the South African Open in mid-January, after having missed four tournaments while he recovered from a rib injury that he sustained testing clubs in the offseason.
The event also moves from the long, mostly wide-open Blue Monster Course at Trump Doral, to narrow, tree-lined Golf Club de Chapultepec, more than 7,300 feet about sea level. During his practice round on Tuesday, McIlroy was hitting 8-iron 210 yards, a bit of an adjustment for him in the altitude.
If it all feels a bit disjointed to McIlroy, it should.
Since winning the Tour Championship and in turn the FedExCup and then playing in the Ryder Cup the following week, McIlroy has competed in just three tournaments in a span of 16 weeks.
Over that time, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas have all won, with Thomas having done so twice in 2017 (and shot 59) and Johnson moving to No. 1 in the world.
“It’s been frustrating because I feel like I started the year playing so well in South Africa,” McIlroy said. “I don’t feel that far behind -- I come in here this week with a chance to get back to No. 1 in the world -- but in terms of maybe preparation and rounds played or reps as someone in the golf world usually says, yeah, I haven’t had the reps and the rounds.”
McIlroy would indeed return to No. 1 for the first time since June 2015 if he wins and Johnson finishes in a two-way tie for third or worse.
The 27-year-old four-time major winner isn’t completely rusty, though.
After the injury, McIlroy didn’t touch a club for about 10 days before picking up his putter and working on his short game, adding that it should be sharp heading into this event given all the time he has been able to spend on it.
He eventually played a few rounds, too, including with President Trump and against Johnson at The Bear’s Club near his home in South Florida, where McIlroy and his manager halved a match against the No. 1 player and a friend of Johnson’s from TaylorMade.
McIlroy also took part in the pro-member event at Seminole on Monday before flying to Mexico later that night.
“We were joking, it was quite a week for me,” McIlroy said. “I got to play with the President of the United States and the best golfer in the world.
“But no, it was good to see where my game was at. I was hitting the ball really well. I snuck it by [Johnson] a couple of times, which was quite nice to see. … The last time I did play competitively I played all right so hopefully I can just pick up where I left off.”