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Rory McIlroy starts his third spell as world No1 this week by returning to the event he turned his back on last year.

“Looking back, it wasn’t one of my brightest moments,” said the 23-year-old after arriving at Sawgrass for the $9.5 million (Dh34.85m) Players Championship, golf’s richest tournament.

McIlroy missed the halfway cut on his two previous visits to the PGA Tour’s showpiece and has yet to break par on it. “I don’t like the golf course for a start,” he once stated. “I find it very awkward off the tee. You’re hitting across fairways all the time. It’s a personal preference – some guys love Sawgrass and some guys don’t like it so much."

Now the Northern Irishman declares himself: “I am glad to be back – for me, it’s a very big tournament and it’s a tournament that I’d love to win one day.

If I had played here (last year), I would have played Quail Hollow, here, Match Play, Wentworth, Memorial. I would have played five on the spin, and I just didn’t really want to do that. So this year, I’m not playing the Match Play, but I’m playing here. I’ve just sort of swapped those two around.”

He is hoping to go one better than last week, when he lost a play-off to Rickie Fowler. “It gave me a bit of confidence for my first week back after a little (three-week) break,” he said. “It was good to get into the play-off, but I would love to have that second shot back.”

After Fowler hit his approach to four feet on the first extra hole McIlroy pushed his more than 20 feet wide and par was not good enough. “I was in between clubs and went with the wedge instead of the sand wedge. Looking back on it – hindsight is a great thing – I didn’t really have anything to lose with Rickie being in there close.”

Few would argue with McIlroy being top of the rankings again given that he has had only two finishes outside the top five in 15 starts since last August, but he still finds himself being baffled by the system. “If you go onto the website there’s a page on it where it explains the whole system,” he said. “I still don’t understand it, but I don’t think many other people do either. I think it’s a good indication.”

Pressed on what goes into becoming No1, he said: “Wins, consistency, Majors and scoring average – I think I’m No1 in that as well!”

The US Open champion has replaced his five-wood with a two-iron to try to find a better way round Sawgrass. “I’ll hit it a lot off the tee just to try and keep it in play. I don’t mind sacrificing distance as long as you’re hitting from the fairways here. “Hitting three-woods on some of these holes it still goes a little too far. I don’t mind going into a green with a seven iron instead of a nine iron.”