The Holywood star, 27, returns to action in the $9.75 million WGC-Mexico Championship after being out for 44 days with a hairline rib fracture.
And while he has only played two events in the 17 weeks that have passed since last November’s DP World Tour Championship, he sounded far from nervous about his return and insisted he does not feel that he is playing catch up with his rivals with the Masters just five weeks away.
“I haven’t had the reps and the rounds, as someone connected with golf liked to say, ” he said with a grin, adding he now has just three events before the Masters instead of the planned seven.
“Hopefully over the next three competitive weeks I am playing — here, Bay Hill and the Match Play — I can get that. And hopefully I feel I’ll have played enough going into Augusta and feel ready.”
On his rib injury — he’s wearing kinesio tape for added support — he said he was “good to go”, adding: “I’m still being a little bit — not protective, but careful. I am making sure I am warmed up before I go out to play.”
McIlroy revealed he had dinner with the injured Tiger Woods last week and while he believes that Woods is in a good place mentally as he recovers from back problems, he confessed that there will come a time when golf will have to move on without the 14-time major winner.
“Even if he only plays eight to 10 times a year, that’s a bonus,” McIlroy said. “Golf is better with him involved but there is going to be a point where we are going to have to move on and golf is going to have to live without Tiger.
“I think with what you have seen over the past few weeks, with all these younger guys winning, it is in a good place and hopefully we can continue to carry the game forward with or without Tiger being there.”
When it came to his controversial round with US President Donald Trump last week, he insisted that he felt obliged to play out of respect for the office, not the man.
“We talked golf the entire day. We weren’t taking foreign policy,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t agree with everything Trump says and would probably vote Independent if he had a vote.
Adding that he enjoyed the thrill of watching snipers and Secret Service men follow their every move, he said: “I actually enjoyed myself, I had a good time.
“I’m sorry if, I don’t know, pissed people off. But I felt I was in a position where I couldn’t really do anything but say ‘yes’ and respect the office, even if you don’t respect the guy that is in it. Go play, and go from there.”
Ranked third in the world, he admitted that it has been frustrating to watch rivals like new Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and new No 1 Dustin Johnson rack up wins in his absence.
But he’s also motivated by the fact that he can make a big statement and get back to No 1 this week and enjoy the boost to his ego that comes with being able to call yourself the top player in the game.
If McIlroy wins the WGC-Mexico Championship and Johnson finishes in a two-way tie for third or worse, McIlroy will jump ahead of both Johnson and the absent Jason Day and reclaim top spot.
“Whenever you are ranked No 1 in the world it is something that is a pretty big deal,” McIlroy said.
“For me it is an ego thing. It is nice to be in that position. It is not as if I earn any more money because I am the world No 1.
“It is just nice to be able to say that you are the best in the world at what you do.”
McIlroy got a chance to test his game against current No 1 Johnson in practice last week, shooting 65 and “snuck it by him a couple of times, which was nice to see and told me my speed was there.”
“We were joking, it was quite a week for me. I got to play with the president and the best golfer in the world!”
He will get another chance to see how far he is hitting the ball in competition when he joins Johnson and Matsuyama on the first tee at Club de Golf Chapultepec tomorrow.
With the course set at altitude and McIlroy hitting eight irons 210 yards in practice, long hitting is expected.
Pádraig Harrington, meanwhile, says he is waiting to see if the trapped nerve in his neck shows sufficient improvement over the coming days so he can avoid surgery.
“The frustrating thing for me now is that I am not sure what awaits me,” the Dubliner wrote on Facebook.
“I am on holidays with my family this week and then when I get home I will get my neck looked at again and make the decision as to having an operation or not.
“Everything is up in the air for the next week or so.”