One year ago, he authored one of the most bizarre chapters in the event's history when he abruptly walked off after just 27 holes of mediocre golf.
While the Ulsterman cited tooth pain in the immediate aftermath of his withdrawal last year, his comments Wednesday upon returning to PGA National indicate that the issues at the time were more mental than physical in nature.
"You should never walk off the golf course, no matter how bad things are," said McIlroy. "But I just - it was just one of these days, I just felt like I couldn't cope with anything more, especially not the way I was heading, I was going to shoot 90."
At the time, McIlroy was not only the event's defending champion, but also the top-ranked player in the world and coming off a highly-publicized change in equipment. In looking back, the 24-year-old explained that the issues he faced last spring were largely rooted away from the golf course.
"My mental state wasn't quite where I needed it to be," he noted. "There was a few things that were occupying my thoughts that probably didn't need to be and shouldn't have been, but it was just a very difficult time."
Following a season in which he failed to make the field at the Tour Championship, McIlroy flashed signs of brilliance en route to capturing the Australian Open in November, then built upon that momentum during a productive Desert swing on the European Tour to begin his 2014 campaign. He now returns to the site of last year's meltdown with his game in order, hopefully wiser after enduring a difficult 2013 season.
"I'm happy with where I am now," said McIlroy. "I mean, it's difficult to deal with, especially when you haven't had to deal with it before. But everyone deals with it in different ways. I guess it was just a little bit of a shock to the system for me, and I just needed a little bit of time to deal with a few different things."
McIlroy reiterated that last year's early exit won't be repeated, and explained that he began to regret his decision a "couple of days" after leaving PGA National mid-way through his second round.
"A missed cut wouldn't have been that bad instead of a withdrawal," he admitted.
At the same time, he stopped short of terming the incident an embarrassment in hindsight.
"It's not embarrassing, because I think a lot of people in the same situation might have done the same thing," added McIlroy. "But I've learned from it and I've moved on. It wasn't my finest hour, but at the end of the day, everyone makes mistakes."