McIlroy ended 19 months without a win with his victory at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month and then had a week off before travelling to Kiawah Island, where he won the 2012 US PGA by eight shots.
The 32-year-old’s win at Quail Hollow saw him installed as favourite to win the year’s second major championship, his fifth overall and a first since 2014, but the Northern Irishman is still braced for a “brutal” test on the longest course in major history.
“It’s funny, I wasn’t playing very well coming into it (in 2012),” McIlroy recalled. “I think I missed four of my last seven cuts. Played okay in Akron the week before, finished fifth.
“But sort of got here to this course and some weeks you just have a good feeling. I got off to a good start. I took advantage of the benign conditions on the first day and probably the best round of the week for me was the Friday.
“I think the scoring average that day was 78. I shot 75, which I was delighted with, then obviously played really well over the weekend.
“But it’s nine years ago. It seems longer. It seems like there’s been a lot of time that’s passed, and I feel like I’m a different person and a different player.
“It’s a different time of year (May not August). Probably going to be a different wind than we played in the last time, so it’s going to play like a completely different golf course.
“I played great here last time and won my first PGA and my second major, but just because I did that doesn’t mean that I’m going to find it any easier this week than anyone else.
“It’s a really tough test, especially when the wind is blowing like this. Those last few holes out there are brutal.
“I’ve maybe got some better memories and better vibes here than most of the other guys do, and that’s obviously nice, but not sure it’s going to enable me to play any better.”
McIlroy conceded he would still be able to “pick holes” in his performance at Quail Hollow after hitting just 19 out of 56 fairways during the week, but also believes such a statistic does not tell the full story.
“There was a lot of crosswinds and there’s a lot of doglegs, and the fairways play half of the width of what they actually are,” he said.
“I hit three tee shots on 14, the drivable par-four, that go into a greenside trap and they’re missed fairways. Yeah, I didn’t drive it my best, but I certainly didn’t drive it all over the lot. I actually hit it pretty well.
“I’m happy with where my game is, so I guess if I go out and play my game and do what I know that I can do, then I can see myself shooting good scores on this golf course.
“Whether that means I win or not, that’s partly up to me, but that’s partly on how the other 155 guys in the field play, as well. If I play my game somewhat close to the best of my ability, I’m sure I’ll have a good chance.”
McIlroy added Pete Cowen to his coaching team after missing the cut by 10 shots in the Players Championship, but then lost in the group stage of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and also missed the cut in the Masters.
“I went into the Masters searching and feeling like I was somewhat on the right track, but still hadn’t seen any progress on the golf course,” he added. “I had seen some progress off it and on the range, but then trying to get it on to the course I was in that transition period.
“Just having those extra couple of weeks after Augusta to work on some more stuff and then go to Quail Hollow and start to see some good shots under pressure, I was like, ‘Oh, this is feeling a little more comfortable’.”
McIlroy has also relished the return of fans at tournaments - up to 10,000 a day will be on site at Kiawah - even those who shout out inane phrases to get themselves heard on television.
“Yeah, love the ‘Mashed Potatoes’ guys again,” Mcllroy joked. “I don’t even care about the stupid comments. I’m just glad that everyone is back here.
“Ever since I was 16 years old I’ve had thousands of people watch me play golf pretty much every time I teed it up. Playing in that environment for 14, 15 years and then sort of going the complete opposite, it’s just different.
“It was like playing practice rounds. It’s easy to lose concentration. You want to play in front of people and you want to feel that atmosphere. I feel like that’s all a part of tournament golf and competitive sports at the highest level, and just happy that it’s starting to come back.”
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