McIlroy headlines a field this week at Bay Hill that includes each of the top five players in the world, bypassing a usual stop in Texas to make his final pre-Masters start this week in Orlando instead. While tournament host Arnold Palmer was joking a few years back when he threatened to break the Ulsterman’s arm to get him to attend, the end result has been achieved.
“It’s been a long time coming,” McIlroy said. “I haven’t played this tournament for a few reasons over the past few years, but it’s nice that it was able to fit into the schedule and I’ve sort of rued the decision I haven’t come sooner.”
McIlroy has played the Shell Houston Open each of the last two years, and in 2013 added the Valero Texas Open in his final start before the Masters. This time around he will skip both events, leaving him with two full weeks off before the season’s first major.
“I just wanted to mix things up,” he said. “Back in ’11 I took three weeks off before the Masters. It worked pretty well for 63 holes, not quite 72. So just trying to adopt a similar approach.”
McIlroy shared that he plans to have dinner with the tournament host following Thursday’s opening round.
“(I’m) excited to get to spend some time with him,” he said. “It’s Arnold’s tournament, so it’s nice to come here and honor him and all that he’s done for our game and this Tour.“