“A win would be nice especially after having so many chances this season and I just haven’t quite capitalised on them,” he said.
“But to be turning 25. That’s a quarter of a century. I came here as a 20-year-old and won here but seeing younger guys like Jordan Spieth go so close at the Masters, and for Seung-yul Noh to win last week, and they’re both younger than me.
“So it seems like these younger guys are getting better and better, and that can only be good for the game and the image of the sport.”
If McIlroy were to taste success there could be no sweeter venue than Quail Hollow in the leafy southern suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Four years ago McIlroy eagled the seventh hole on day two to make the halfway cut before producing a course record final round 62 — still two shots fewer than any other player.
“It’s just great to be back here as it’s one of my favourite stops on the Tour for a number of reasons, and not only loving the golf course but so many fond memories of my first PGA Tour win here in 2010,” he said.
“Also, I’ve played good golf since then being involved in a play-off in 2012 and was in contention last year but just fell away a little bit over the back nine.”
And while McIlroy has lost his ‘chubby’ look and his hair is a lot more manageable, there’s no change in his demeanour despite dropping outside the top 10 to 11th in the world rankings.
It is the first occasion since December 2010 McIlroy has dropped outside the elite group.
“It doesn’t bother me that I’m outside the top 10 and it’s the nature of the rankings,” he said.
“I’ve earned more world ranking points this year than the top three players in the world, so it’s not like I’ve had chance to win, and it’s just that I haven’t quite won.
“It’s to do with the fast start and the great year I had in 2012, and now all these points are just starting to come off, and that’s the reason.
“But hopefully I can get myself back up into that sort of territory I have been at for the last few years.”
McIlroy warmed up for this week’s $US6.9m event playing the pro-am in the company of 14-year-old Alezandra Ayala, the Atlanta teenager winning a Wells Fargo-sponsored video essay contest to play alongside the double Major winner.
And while she was clearly nervous early on, Ayala settled down to impress all those who followed the group, even out-driving McIlroy down the last, albeit from the forward tees.
“It was really cool playing with Rory as he seems a really nice guy,” she said.
“He was very honest with me about any question I asked him about life on the Tour, and the reason I chose him was that I followed him around at Kiawah Island two years ago when he won [the US PGA] by a lot of strokes.
“Also I think he will one day be a future Masters champion.”
McIlroy will play the opening two rounds alongside 2012 champion Rickie Fowler and exciting Swede Jonas Blixt, joint runner-up in the Masters, and will be teeing up at 1pm Irish time.
Darren Clarke is out in the group behind McIlroy’s competing alongside fellow Major winners Davis Love III and Stewart Cink. Pádraig Harrington is in the afternoon half of the draw later today teeing off at 5.45pm Irish in the company of South African Trevor Immelman and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.