Rory McIlroy arrives at TPC Sawgrass aiming to become the first player to ever successfully defend The Players Championship title, and if there is one thing in his favour, it’s the similarities between his results at the start of 2019 and this year.
So far this year the Northern Irishman has finished top five in the Farmers Insurance Open, Genesis Invitational, WGC-Mexico Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational – extending his top-five record to seven consecutive tournaments.
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In 2019 he played in the same four tournaments as well as the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and among those five he only finished outside the top five at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he finished sixth.
That start in 2019 paved the way for his Players Championship title – can he continue those parallels and lift the trophy once more?
Here’s how his start to 2020 unfolded…
Farmers Insurance Open, Week 4 (T3)
McIlroy began in strong fashion by shooting 67 in his opening round of the year, but was six shots worse the next day to go into the weekend four under.
However, a five-under 67 in the third round left him on nine under, just three shots off the leader Jon Rahm and in with a chance to win it.
McIlroy endured a terrible start to the final round as he bogeyed three of the first four, though he did launch a revival when he followed a birdie at the fifth with a 20-foot putt for eagle at the sixth, and pulled himself back to within two of the lead with birdies at eight and nine.
But his challenge faltered again with a three-putt bogey at the 11th and another bogey on the 15th, which effectively left him too much ground to make up as he finished tied for third on 12 under, three shots short of winner Marc Leishman.
The Genesis Invitational, Week 7 (T5)
Nine of the world’s top 10 featured at Riviera Country Club, and McIlroy was tied with Matt Kuchar and Adam Scott for the lead going into the final round.
McIlroy lost ground early on the final day with a three-putt triple-bogey at the fifth, and dropped another shot at the par-three sixth.
The world No 1 had trialled a slightly longer putter during the tournament, and though it didn’t quite click for him, he closed a frustrating final day by rolling in a 20-footer at the last to finish eight under and claim his fifth consecutive worldwide top-five finish.
WGC – Mexico Championship, Week 8 (5)
McIlroy switched back to the flat stick he used throughout 2019 for the opening World Golf Championship of the year, and he immediately saw the benefits as he posted a six-under 65 at Club de Golf Chapultepec, giving him a two-shot lead after the opening round.
He then produced a late fightback to stay in contention after the second as he mixed five birdies with two bogeys in a round of 68.
McIlroy managed to get himself within one of the lead in the final round when he birdied three of the first six holes despite not being on top of his game, but he did not card another birdie until the 16th in a 68 which earned him outright fifth on 14 under par.
Arnold Palmer Invitational, Week 10 (T5)
The world No 1 took advantage of the calm morning conditions to post a six-under 66 and set the clubhouse target in the opening round at Bay Hill. McIlroy recovered from a slow start to card an eagle and five birdies, with the 30-year-old remaining in top spot until late starter Matt Every posted a bogey-free 65 to move into a one-shot lead.
McIlroy missed a 10-footer to drop a shot at the second hole of his second round and then had a three-putt bogey at the seventh before he took three blows to hack his way out of the right rough on the eighth on his way to a double-bogey six as he went round in 73.
McIlroy then found himself two shots off the lead after a testing third round that saw only one player shoot under par.
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And he was tied for the lead in the final round on five under when he birdied the fourth, but a double-bogey seven at the sixth and a double-bogey six at the ninth destroyed his victory chances as he eventually finished four behind Tyrrell Hatton.
“I guess for me today two bad, two loose shots sort of cost me,” McIlroy said afterwards.
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