Repentant Rory glad to be back

Water sight: The par three 17th hole with its famous island green awaits McIlroy and Co

Rory McIlroy starts his third spell as world number one by returning to a tournament he opted to pass on a year ago.

The Northern Irishman caused a major stir when he turned his back on the Players Championship last year having missed the halfway cut on his previous two visits to TPC Sawgrass.

The reigning US Open champion now admits he regrets making the decision to skip the event which – with a total purse of $5.8 million – is the richest in world golf.

“Looking back it wasn’t one of my brightest moments,” said the 23-year-old on Tuesday after arriving in Florida.

He once said: “I don’t like the golf course for a start. I find it very awkward off the tee. You’re hitting across fairways all the time.

“It’s personal preference – some guys love Sawgrass and some guys don’t like it so much.”

Now the Northern Irishman declares himself “glad to be back”, insisting: “For me it’s a very big tournament and it’s a tournament that I’d love to win one day.”

He is hoping to go one better than last week, when he lost a play-off to Rickie Fowler at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“It gave me a bit of confidence for my first week back after a little (three-week) break,” he said. “It was good to get into the play-off, but I would love to have that second shot back.”

After Fowler had hit his approach to four feet on the first extra hole, McIlroy pushed his more than 20 feet wide and par was not good enough.

“I was in between clubs and went with the wedge instead of the sand wedge. Looking back on it – hindsight is a great thing – I didn’t really have anything to lose with Rickie being in there close.”

Pressed on what goes into becoming number one he said: “Wins, consistency, majors and scoring average – I think I’m number one in that as well!”

The US Open champion has replaced his five-wood with a two-iron to try to and guarantee more accuracy off the tee at Sawgrass this year.

“I’ll hit it a lot off the tee just to try and keep it in play. I don’t mind sacrificing distance as long as you’re hitting from the fairways here.

“Hitting three-woods on some of these holes it still goes a little too far. I don’t mind going into a green with a seven-iron instead of a nine-iron.”