LOS ANGELES -- Rory McIlroy enters this week's US PGA event at Torrey Pines comfortable and confident, hoping to learn something for the US Open and strengthen his game ahead of the Masters.
The 31-year-old from Northern Ireland will be among the favorites when the Farmers Insurance Open tees off Thursday on the same layout where the US Open will be contested in June.
"Looking ahead to June and the US Open here as well, it will be nice to at least have it fresh in the memory for then," McIlroy said Wednesday.
"It's a wonderful layout for a major championship. It stands up to basically the most elite level of golf that we play, the toughest test we face all year for the most part."
Seventh-ranked McIlroy, who hasn't won since the 2019 WGC Shanghai event, was third last week at Abu Dhabi in his first start since sharing fifth at last November's Masters as he sought a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam.
The four-time major winner took nine weeks off after Augusta National but hopes he can build on late-season momentum he found after struggling in his June return after a three-month PGA Covid-19 layoff.
"Augusta, it's still very fresh in the memory," McIlroy said. "I had a pretty quiet spell there for a few months. I just wanted to get back out and play.
"I felt like I sort of stopped last year on quite a positive note the way I played at Augusta and I just wanted to try to keep that going into the start of this year.
- Playing into form -
"I feel like the more I play, the more I'll get comfortable with my game and know where it is. I just thought it was a good opportunity to sort of hit the ground running this week."
McIlroy knows Torrey Pines will be much more formidable in June that he will see it this week with US Open trademark dense rough and lightning-fast greens.
"A little more premium on accuracy that week," he said. "If I can go out and play well... it will give me some confidence going into June."
McIlroy makes his third start in the San Diego PGA event, having shared third last year and fifth in 2019, and likes how he's playing.
"It feels pretty good," McIlroy said of his game. "I'm feeling pretty comfortable. Just nice to see where the game's at after the next couple weeks.
"It's hard because you're always assessing your game... but I don't think anything can put you in a better place than playing well at golf tournaments and getting into contention and winning."
McIlroy struggled to focus with no spectators last year.
"Sometimes it just felt so casual," he said. "It's sort of just like playing a practice round. That has been the thing that I've had to get used to. Getting more in a competitive mode is a good thing. That was sort of my struggle at the start."
Next week, the PGA expects 5,000 fans a day at Phoenix. McIlroy isn't worried about Covid-19 issues.
"There's ample space out there for people to socially distance and stay safe," he said. "If everyone's wearing a mask, I don't see any danger in that at all."
© Agence France-Presse