Rory McIlroy may not like Donald Trump's politics — “You respect the office, even if you don’t respect the guy that is in it” — but he might need to fire up an ego that can be as big as the White House if he's to make a statement in Mexico this week.
The mice have been playing away merrily in McIlroy's absence with just about all his big rivals winning events and one them — US Open champion Dustin Johnson — having the effrontery to become world No 1.
McIlroy was preparing to go to Abu Dhabi to take back that coveted spot when he was forced to take 44 days off with a stress fracture in his rib, brought on, he says, by pounding drivers to find the correct club-ball combo for what he hopes will be a season of major promise.
Now that he's "good to go" he knows that he can show them all who's boss by winning this week's $9.75 million WGC-Mexico Championship.
And considering the mauling he took in social media for playing golf with Trump, arguably the most divisive and right wing US president in living memory, McIlroy was confident and almost adamant, that he's not playing catch up with his rivals ahead of the Masters.
Sure, he went a little too far when explaining why he had no real choice but to play with Commander in Chief Trump. But perhaps he can blame that on the altitude, which will help the field rocket the ball obscene distances.
With the course set at altitude and McIlroy hitting eight irons 210 yards in practice, long hitting is expected.
AP golf writer Doug Ferguson tweeted: "Asked Dustin on how far he's hitting it this week. 'A long way.' I left out an a word between 'long' and 'way' but you get the idea."
The only player to get a rocket recently is McIlroy, who admitted he was taken aback by the reaction to his game with the owner of Trump Doral, but stopped short of saying he had to put up with anything similar in the post-Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland.
"I just treated it as a round of golf. Putting anyone's beliefs or politics to one side, to go there and see 30 Secret Service and 30 cops and snipers in the trees, it was a real experience for me to see something like that. If it had been Obama, I would have went [sic] to play.
"I've played golf with President Clinton. I've spent time with President Bush. I've been around quite a few presidents before but again, putting beliefs to one side, I just wanted to have an experience that I mightn't ever get. To play golf with the sitting president, you can respect the guy or not respect the guy in that scenario and just experience the whole thing. It is not as though we were speaking foreign policy out there.
"We were talking about golf and the grass that he's put on the greens and the grass he is putting on the greens at Doral. He was happier to talk about golf all day than the other stuff he has to put up with these days."
If McIlroy had left it there, it would have been fine but kept going.
“I don't agree with everything that Trump says," he pleaded. Then he added: "I actually enjoyed myself, I had a good time. I’m sorry if, I don’t know, I pissed people off. But I felt I was in a position where I couldn’t really do anything but say ‘yes’ and respect the office, even if you don’t respect the guy that is in it. Go play, and go from there."
Most golf fans are jut hoping McIlroy can hit the ground running, and they will be pleased to hear that while he has only played two events in the 17 weeks since last November’s DP World Tour Championship, he does not feel that he is playing catch up with his rivals with the Masters just five weeks away.
“I haven’t had the reps and the rounds, as someone connected with golf liked to say, ” he said with a grin, adding he now has just three events before the Masters instead of the planned seven.
“Hopefully over the next three competitive weeks I am playing — here, Bay Hill and the Match Play — I can get that. And hopefully, I feel I’ll have played enough going into Augusta and feel ready.”
On his rib injury —he’s wearing Kinesio tape for added support— he said: "I'm still being a little bit - not protective, but careful. I am making sure I am warmed up before I go out to play.”
McIlroy revealed he had dinner with the injured Tiger Woods last week and while he believes that Woods is in a good place mentally and is working hard to come back and recover from back problems, he confessed that the game should start preparing itself for a Tiger-less world.
“Even if he only plays eight to 10 times a year, that’s a bonus,” McIlroy said. “Golf is better with him involved, but there is going to be a point where we are going to have to move on, and golf is going to have to live without Tiger.
“I think with what you have seen over the past few weeks, with all these younger guys winning, it is in a good place and hopefully we can continue to carry the game forward with or without Tiger being there.”
The young guys include a host of fellow 20-somethings, and while he said he was happy for all the recent winners, including friends like Rickie Fowler, he's ready to take up where he left off and show who's No 1.
Ego, he said, is the reason why the world No 1 spot is important and if he wins the WGC-Mexico Championship and Johnson finishes in a two-way tie for third or worse, McIlroy will jump ahead of both Johnson and the absent Jason Day to reclaim the throne.
“Whenever you are ranked No 1 in the world it is something that is a pretty big deal,” McIlroy said. “For me, it is an ego thing. It is nice to be in that position. It is not as if I earn any more money because I am the world No 1.
“It is just nice to be able to say that you are the best in the world at what you do.“
McIlroy got a chance to test his game against current No 1 Johnson in practice last week, shooting 65 to halve a fourball that also included his personal assistant, Sean, and a TaylorMade representative.
Johnson is one of the longest hitters in golf but McIlroy refuses to concede supremacy off the tee, and he took pleasure in pointing out that he “snuck it by him a couple of times, which was nice to see and told me my speed was there.”
He joked: “It was quite a week for me. I got to play with the President and the best golfer in the world!”
Asked Dustin on how far he's hitting it this week. "A long way." I left out an a word between "long" and "way" but you get the idea.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) February 28, 2017
He will get another chance to see how far he is hitting the ball in competition when he joins Johnson and Japan's Hideki Matsuyama — world No 4 and winner of five of his last ten starts — on the first tee at Club de Golf Chapultepec tomorrow.
With the course set at altitude and McIlroy hitting eight irons 210 yards in practice, long hitting is expected into small greens at a classic layout that he said required a lot of strategy and thought.