The event on the Californian coast marks McIlroy’s first start of the PGA Tour season, having got himself in the mix in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai in European Tour events last month.
The 28-year-old finished third and second in those events and now starts a run of tournaments in the US that are aimed at getting him ready for the opening major of the season at Augusta in early April.
That will provide McIlroy with his fourth chance to become just the sixth player to complete golf’s career Grand Slam and he’s determined to give himself the best post possible chance this time around.
After this week’s event, which also features world No 1 Dustin Johnson and Open champion Jordan Spieth, McIlroy is joining Tiger Woods in teeing up in the Genesis Open in LA next week.
He will then play in the Honda Classic, Valspar Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC Dell Match Play, a notable exception in that run of events being the WGC Mexico Championship, which he’s decided to skip.
“I feel like I haven’t played a whole lot over the past 18 months for various reasons (he was hampered for most of last year by a rib injry) and now there’s nothing stopping me from playing a pretty full schedule,” said McIlroy.
“It’s nice to start here in California and work my way back east and play a couple of tournaments that I’ve never played before. I think that once I get to Augusta, one excuse I won’t have is not being prepared and being under-golfed and I’ll have played a lot of tournament golf leading up to it.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been under-prepared (for The Masters in the past), but there might have been times where say, for example, Augusta would have been my sixth event of the year and maybe in those previous five events I might not have got fully in contention or had a chance to win a golf tournament.
“I feel like the best way to prepare you for a big week like that is in contention, feeling those nerves down the stretch. And so I feel like the more I play, the more chance I’m going to give myself to be in that position.
“And I already have. I was in the last couple of groups in Abu Dhabi, I was in the last group on Sunday in Dubai. Hopefully I’m in a couple more last groups before we get to April.”
Johnson has already won this season, as has Jon Rahm. Indeed, the Spaniard will become world No 1 if he comes out on top again this weekend. McIlroy aims to be back on top of the world by the end of the year and he’s not paying attention to anyone else.
“It’s great that DJ and Jon have won early this year, but the last thing on my mind is those two guys when I tee it up on a Thursday morning trying to go and play a golf tournament,” said the four-time major winner.
“I’m trying to play as best I can and I realise the position I’m in in the world of golf. And I know if I play well and I do what I can do and control what I can control, I’ll have chances to win golf tournaments.
“It’s great for the game to see the top players in the world play so well, but I don’t feel like I need to answer anything or feel I need to retaliate in any way.”
McIlroy, who has been paired with 2013 Open champion Phil Mickelson in today’s opening round, is excited about partnering his dad Gerry in the pro-am event, the pair having already joined forces in the Dunhill Links in the past.
“It’s a tournament that I’ve always watched and I’ve always thought one day it would be really cool to play with my dad and fortunately we were able to get him in and play,” said McIlroy.
“And he’s definitely played more golf than I have in the last year. He’s been practicing over at Seminole for the last couple of months and getting himself ready.”