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Rory McIlroy optimistic for 2024 Players Championship, five years after Ponte Vedra title

PONTE VEDRA BEACH | Five years ago when The Players Championship hopped from late spring to early spring, from May to March, March 14 marked its opening day and St. Patrick’s Day its finish. Rory McIlroy won.

This year, another March 14 start. Another St. Patrick’s Day finish. Another McIlroy masterpiece?

That’s the dream formula for success for McIlroy, 2019 champion at The Players and bidding to add his name to the short and exclusive list— Jack Nicklaus, Hal Sutton, Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Davis Love III, Tiger Woods — to hoist the trophy more than once.

He knows how to win here. Making it happen again is a different story.

“There’s not many places I go now where I’m not a past winner, so it’s nice,” he said during a light moment in Wednesday’s press scrum before his practice round at The Players.

Five years removed from that golden weekend, when he broke out rapidly with a 67-65 and held off the late charges of Jim Furyk, Jhonattan Vegas and Eddie Pepperell in a roller coaster of a Ponte Vedra final round, McIlroy is a man accustomed to feast or famine on the First Coast.

In the plus column, there’s the No. 2 World Golf Ranking — only reigning Players champion Scottie Scheffler stands higher — those four major championships and the memories of 2019.

But The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has treated him less than kindly since. He missed the cut twice in the last three years, and in 2022, he started slowly with three straight rounds of 73 before a final-round 66 lifted him into a tie for 33rd.

McIlroy’s 2023 Players experience was all too typical: 76-73 and his sixth missed cut in 13 visits to the Stadium Course.

And he’s still searching for an end to a major tournament drought that now stretches nearly a decade, going back to the 2014 PGA Championship.

“I’m under no illusion that the clock is ticking and it has been 10 years since I’ve won one of them, and I’ve had chances, and those just haven’t went my way. I just need to keep putting myself in those positions, and sooner or later it’s going to happen,” McIlroy said.

When he’s good in Ponte Vedra, though, he’s very good indeed. In addition to his 2019 title, McIlroy earned three consecutive top-10 finishes from 2013 to 2015, when the tournament still took place in May.

At 34, the 24-time PGA Tour winner is looking for his first top-20 finish on Tour this season, although he won the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates in January. His tie for 21st last week during the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, where he came in at 1-under 287, matched his best of the 2024 Tour season.

“I’m not missing cuts, but at the same time, with how I’ve driven the golf ball the last three weeks, I should be contending in the tournaments that I’ve played,” he said. “Yeah, a little bit of work to do with the irons and trying to get those straightened out, but I feel like every other part of the game is in great shape.”

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Rory McIlroy aims to join two-time winners at The Players Championship