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McIlroy ‘trending in right direction’ after ‘week that could have been’

Rory McIlroy feels his game is getting closer to challenging for PGA Tour success heading into the rest of the Florida Swing, following a “week that could have been” at the Cognizant Classic.

McIlroy enjoyed a strong start to the year on the DP World Tour, narrowly missing out on Dubai Invitational victory before successfully defending his Hero Dubai Desert Classic title the following week, although he has made a slow start to his FedExCup campaign.

The Northern Irishman struggled to a tied-66th finish at a weather-affected AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, reduced to 54 holes after storms saw the final day cancelled, before recovering from a disappointing opening round at the Genesis Invitational to claim a share of 24th.

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McIlroy suffered a shocking opening round at the Genesis Invitational after string of mistakes saw him post a three-over 74

McIlroy arrived at PGA National as the pre-tournament favourite and a former winner of the event in 2012, when it was called the Honda Classic, with the highest-ranked player well placed for a weekend charge when back-to-back 67s left him within three of the halfway lead.

The former world No 1 slipped out of contention with a third-round 72 before rallying on a rain-disrupted Sunday to close a three-under 68, which saw McIlroy end the week on 10 under and will likely see him finish inside the top 20.

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A look back on how McIlroy’s stance on LIV Golf appears to have changed over the course of the last two years

“Week that could have been,” McIlroy told reporters after his final round. “I felt like most of my play was a bit better than what the result suggested.

“That bad hole on 16 yesterday [round three, where he made a triple-bogey], a few sloppy mistakes here and there. Overall, the game seems to be trending in the right direction.

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Rory McIlroy got in the water to take a shot in the third round of the Cognizant Classic, but even then it didn’t quite go to plan…

“I drove the ball great again this week. I led the field in strokes gained off the tee at Riv [Riviera, Genesis Invitational]. Probably going to do that again this week.

“That [driving] is the foundation of my game. When that’s good, I just need some of the rest of the pieces to fall into play. Hopefully they can over the next couple weeks.”

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Busy run ahead for McIlroy

McIlroy has built a busier early-season schedule than previous years ahead of The Masters, where he will have another opportunity to complete the career Grand Slam, with his Cognizant Classic appearance the first of three in as many weeks.

The 34-year-old plays the Arnold Palmer Invitational from Thursday ahead of The Players from March 14-17, both live on Sky Sports, with McIlroy also having the Valero Texas Open in his schedule the week before The Masters.

“If anything, I’m just learning sort of my patterns and learning how to manage my game a little bit,” McIlroy added. “There are still a few misses in there, but at the same time, I know what those misses are, so I know how to manage it a little bit better.

“It [recent play] has been good. Looking forward to Bay Hill [Arnold Palmer Invitational] and looking forward to The Players. This has been a little stop-start since the Middle East, so looking forward to getting on a run of events here.”

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Everything you need to know about the 2024 PGA Tour season, including the FedExCup and the Signature Events

The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the fourth of eight Signature Events on the PGA Tour calendar, offering smaller fields with more prize money and FedExCup points on offer, with McIlroy looking to go one better than last year’s tied-second finish to Kurt Kitayama.

McIlroy – the 2018 champion at Bay Hill – is joined in a strong line-up by world No 1 Scottie Scheffler and reigning FedExCup champion Viktor Hovland, with the trio also likely to be the among the favourites at The Players the following week.

Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight showdown with Francis Ngannou takes place on Friday March 8, live on Sky Sports Box Office with the main event expected around 11pm. Book Joshua vs Ngannou now!

Watch McIlroy in action at the Arnold Palmer Invitational live on Sky Sports. Early coverage begins from Bay Hill on Thursday at midday via the red button, with full coverage from 7pm. Stream the PGA Tour and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – just £21 a month for 12 months. No contract, cancel anytime.

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