McIlroy admits he has a “weird relationship” with Wentworth, where he won one of the European Tour’s flagship events in the same week he called off his wedding to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, but has also missed the cut four times in eight appearances.
But the 29-year-old’s win in 2014 was followed by consecutive victories in the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and US PGA, form he would love to reproduce following an inconsistent season to date.
“I guess all you need is that spark or that catalyst,” McIlroy said. “I felt like my game was trending in the right direction in 2014, but didn’t quite have the win. On that Sunday I was seven shots behind going into the last day. I didn’t expect to win. I just wanted to go out and play a good final round.
“It did snowball from there and I got on to a nice little bit of a hot streak, and I’d love to be able to do something like that again. I’ve got a busy summer coming up.
“There’s a lot of big tournaments to play in, still got three major championships and the Ryder Cup and everything else. So yeah, maybe this could be the spark that gets that all going again.”
McIlroy’s 2018 campaign has hardly been a disaster thanks to an impressive victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and three other top-five finishes, but he has also missed three cuts and failed to complete the career grand slam after a disappointing final round in the Masters.
“The win at Bay Hill was great,” McIlroy added. “I think playing my way into the final group at Augusta was fantastic, as well, so they were real steps forward compared to, say, the last 18 months.
“I just feel like it’s been a little bit inconsistent. If I can just get my play a little bit more consistent and swing a little more consistently, that would be a step in the right direction.”
Scheduling issues meant McIlroy did not play at Wentworth in 2016 and injury ruled him out last year, meaning he has yet to compete over a course which underwent major changes after Ryder Cup team-mate Chris Wood’s victory two years ago.
“I think they’ve made some great changes and it’s shaping up to be a good week,” added McIlroy, who worked on his swing with coach Michael Bannon in Florida last week.
“It’s a course where if you’re not quite on, you can get frustrated easily and sort of let it go from there. I’ve had my fair share of bad play here, but I still feel like I’ve played well enough to still have some good memories and draw on some good experiences. I think if I can hit the ball the way I know that I can and control my shots into these greens, I’ll have a chance.”
Paul Casey, another former champion at Wentworth, believes he is the “worst-prepared” player in the field ahead of his first appearance in the PGA since 2013.
Casey was forced to withdraw from the Players Championship with a back injury and has also not played at Wentworth since the extensive renovation programme which began days after Chris Wood’s victory in 2016.
Casey, who won this event in 2009 and the HSBC Match Play title on the West Course in 2006, said: “I’m genuinely excited. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and when we looked at the schedule and I rejoined the [European] Tour, this was an obvious event that I was going to put in.
“This event is really one of the main reasons why I became a professional golfer, coming down here and watching Seve and Lyle and Woosie and Langer and all those guys when I was a kid growing up.
“It has a special place in my heart so I can’t explain how cool it is and how, touch wood, I will be good for tomorrow to tee it up again. I’ve had all the scans done and some weapons-grade anti-inflammatories have taken effect, but I haven’t hit any golf balls.
“If I’m not the worst-prepared player here this week something’s wrong, because I’ve done absolutely nothing. I can’t promise what this week is going to be like but I am chomping at the bit.”