Bay Hill: World number one Rory McIlroy is looking for a strong showing at his first Arnold Palmer Invitational to set him up nicely for a tilt at the Masters next month.
McIlroy got 2015 off to a strong start with a runner-up finish on the European Tour in Abu Dhabi followed by a victory in Dubai. But in his first two US PGA Tour starts of the year he missed the cut at the Honda Classic and finished equal ninth at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
"It`s important to play well here, to get into contention and just feel what it`s like, final event going into Augusta, just feeling something on the last day and the back nine in contention, having a chance to win and all that stuff," said the 25-year-old from Northern Ireland, who has never played Palmer`s tournament at Bay Hill before.
McIlroy will be seeking a third straight major title at Augusta National in April and attempting to complete a career Grand Slam.
He knows he`ll be in the spotlight at Augusta, but insists that won`t put extra pressure on him.
"I`ve got a chance to go to Augusta and do something very few players in this game have done before, so that adds a little bit of spice to it, but I don`t feel any extra pressure," McIlroy said.
"I feel the extra attention, but no extra pressure on this side going into Augusta this year."
McIlroy said that five days of work with coach Michael Bannon had helped him sort out some problems.
"Feeling much better about my game now than I was walking off at Doral 10 days ago," he said.
Despite his Stateside struggles, McIlroy said he kept it light on a short visit to Augusta National last week.
He said the trip was "100 percent fun, zero percent serious.
"I didn`t hit any extra balls, just hit one ball the whole time.
"I just wanted to go and enjoy it with my Dad, that`s what the whole thing was about," McIlroy said. "There were four father-and-son pairs, and we had a great time."
While at Augusta, McIlroy bumped into star NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.
He said it was "inspirational" to see the trio, in the midst of their off-season, sweating in the gym.
"Just great to see the dedication that they have and how seriously they take their career," he added.