Rory McIllroy targets first victory of 2016 as perfect birthday gift
Birthday boy Rory McIlroy believes he is close to eliminating the "bad habits" which have contributed to him being the only member of the world's top five without a victory in 2016.
While world No 1 Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler have all tasted success this year, McIlroy - 27 years old yesterday - has had to settle for four top-10 finishes in strokeplay events, as well as losing in the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Match Play.
But the world No 3 has a great chance to end his winless run by staging a successful title defence in this week's Wells Fargo Championship, an event which provided his first PGA Tour title in 2010 and five top-10 finishes in six appearances.
McIlroy cruised to a seven-shot triumph at Quail Hollow 12 months ago, carding a course-record 61 in the third round which was 10.16 shots better than the field average of 71.16.
"I'm very excited to be back," McIlroy said last night.
"Any time you get to defend a title is exciting and Quail Hollow has been a really good place for me in my PGA Tour career.
"I've always been very comfortable on this golf course and with the great memories that I have it all adds up to a really enjoyable week, but a week where I feel like I can play really well and strongly and have a chance to contend again."
McIlroy took three weeks off after finishing 10th in the Masters and, after initially leaving his clubs well alone, has since spent time working hard on his game.
The four-time major winner added: "I had a good chat with my swing coach Michael Bannon. I'd got into a couple of bad habits leading up to Augusta and it's never really a good time to work on them - you are just trying to play golf and shoot a score.
"I'd started to set the club a little deep, got the club a little behind me. I needed to set it a little more vertical and try to get it coming down on the plane a little more with a little less clubface rotation, and I feel like I have done that pretty well.
"I am still working on it and I've got a few swing thoughts this week but I feel better than I did when I put the clubs away for a couple of weeks.
"I took basically a full two weeks off from golf. I went home to Ireland for a week and then had a bit of a break; I was island-hopping for about 10 days, which was nice.
"I've worked pretty hard the last week to lead into this week and looking on to the Players and the Irish Open too. I've got three important weeks coming up for me.
"There's a couple of things at Augusta that I need to rectify but I feel I've done that for the most part and it's always great to come back to somewhere where I've got good memories."
Meanwhile, McIlroy will miss the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth this month in a further blow to the European Tour's flagship event.
McIlroy explained: "The reason I took three weeks off after Augusta was that I'm not going to have more than a week off until after the Ryder Cup. Until October it's going to be very busy.
"I'm playing here, next week at the Players, the Irish Open and then it's basically week on, week off from there. Memorial, week off, US Open, week off, French Open, week off, Open, week off, PGA, week off, Olympics, week off, Fed Ex Cup, Ryder Cup.
"There's a little bit of travel in there as well so it's a busy stretch coming up and you can't play every week. You want to feel as fresh as you can for every tournament so I feel it's the best way for me to approach it."
The good news for the European Tour is that McIlroy is playing the 100th Open de France - at Le Golf National, venue for the 2018 Ryder Cup - instead of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, which he won in 2014.