Rory McIlroy has admitted that he needs a 'spark' to return to form after he dropped out of the world's top ten for the first time in three years.
The Holywood star fell three places to eleventh in the world golf rankings after a four over par final round left him in a tie for tenth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, eight shots behind winner Bryson DeChambeau, who shot up five places to world number six.
It's McIlroy's third top 10 in six events this year although he has failed to mount a sustained challenge through to the Sunday back nine during that run, even in his third placed finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
That means the 31-year-old has fallen from fourth in the world at the turn of the year to 11th, outside the top ten for the first time since March 2018. It is only McIlroy's 15th week outside the top ten since 2010.
Ahead of this week's Players' Championship, which he won in 2019, McIlroy admits there's something missing.
"There were some good parts this week again," he said. "Some stuff that I'm sort of, I don't know what the word is or how to describe it, but just a little dejected or maybe looking to go in a different direction. I don't know
"I need something, I need a spark, I need something and I just don't seem to have it. Some days it's good, some days it's not."
McIlroy goes into this week's unofficial 'fifth major' as de facto defending champion after last year's event was postponed one round in due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think we're all sort of now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel where things can at least get back to some sort of normality pretty soon," said McIlroy.
"I can't believe it's been a year. It's going to be surreal looking back in 20 years time and sort of seeing what we lived through. But, yeah, I'm just looking forward to things going back to normal."
Despite his indifferent form, McIlroy is ranked as joint second favourite this week, behind world number one Dustin Johnson and alongside DeChambeau.
The big-hitting American edged Lee Westwood by a shot on Sunday to win at Bay Hill. Afterwards, he revealed a text from a certain golfing legend helped inspire him to success.
“It’s been quite a battle,” he said in a television interview on the 18th green. “I don’t even know what to say, to win at Mr Palmer’s event, it’s going to make me cry.
“It means the world to me. I got a text from Tiger (Woods) this morning and he obviously had done really well here and we talked about just keep fighting no matter what happens and play boldly like Mr Palmer said.
“My heart has been heavy with Tiger and what’s been going on with him (Woods is recovering in hospital following a car accident) and I just kept telling myself it’s not how many times you get kicked down it’s about how many times you get picked back up and keep going and that’s what I did out there today.”