McIlroy and Moynihan look for spring boost and summer sparkle
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland enjoys a light-hearted moment during the pro-am for the 2018 BMW PGA Championship on the West Course at Wentworth. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland enjoys a light-hearted moment during the pro-am for the 2018 BMW PGA Championship on the West Course at Wentworth. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy continues to rail against the downside of celebrity but he’ll happily bask in the limelight at Wentworth if he can find the spark that re-ignites his season.

The world number eight tees it up in the $7 million BMW PGA Championship for the first time in three years with the unwanted tag of the UK's most famous sportsperson.

The Holywood native has more star power than Gareth Bale, Wayne Rooney or Lewis Hamilton according to the "ESPN Fame 100" list when it comes to social media following, Google Trend score and endorsement dollars.

But it all adds up to a big fat nothing for McIlroy, who judges himself on his golf alone. And having failed to kick on from his thrilling Arnold Palmer Invitational win and fizzled out at Augusta National, Quail Hollow and Sawgrass, he’s hoping this will be a watershed week.

"I dreamed of being a great golfer," McIlroy told reporters at Wentworth where his 2014 victory heralded a magical summer that saw him double his major tally. "I never dreamed of all this other stuff.

"I feel very privileged that I'm in the position that I'm in, but I just try to live my life the way I normally would. I never wanted to be famous. I wanted to be known for my golf and that was it."

On the dark side of global celebrity status, he added: "Everyone knows what you do 24 hours of the day. You can't really get away from it too much.

"That's why I've tried to withdraw from social media and keep my life more private. As time has gone on, I've started to value that part of my life more."

He hasn’t won a major since that 2014 US PGA took his haul to four and six weeks after shooting a lifeless 74 in the final group to finish tied fifth in the Masters, he’s hitting the reset button.

He believes his indifferent displays in the Wells Fargo (16th) and The Players Championship (missed cut) were down to swing kinks he's since ironed out.

"It's been a little inconsistent," he said of a season that has brought one win, three top-fives and three missed cuts from 11 starts. "My swing has been a bit inconsistent this year so I have been working on that. 

"I felt like I did a good bit of work in Florida last week and I've got a busy stretch coming up with this week and the Memorial next week leading into the US Open. So I feel like I have done a good bit of work. I have played the course the last couples of day, so hopefully, I can piece it all together.

"I struggled at The Players, I didn't play too well, but I feel like my game has come on a little bit since then. Hopefully, I see some good signs this week."

If your head is in the right space, you can basically do anything.
— Rory McIlroy on the mental game

Asked about the mental game, which he's said is more important than the physical side, he said: "Mentally I am good. I think they go hand in hand, the mental and the physical. If the physical is in good shape and your swing is in the right place, mentally you can be a bit more confident and a little more prepared going into it, so I think it does go hand in hand.

"So there's been times where I haven't felt great about my swing but mentally I've been really sharp and been able to get the job done so your head plays a huge part in golf and if your head is in the right space, you can basically do anything."

And while he has often felt “handcuffed" at Wentworth's West Course, missing the cut four times out of eight, he also knows a win this week could set him up for a repeat of that magical summer of 2014.

He came from seven shots behind Thomas Bjorn with a closing 66 to win at Wentworth four years ago before going on to claim The Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA in successive starts.

"It did snowball from there, and I got on to a nice little bit of a hot streak," he said, insisting he's "well over" his Masters disappointment. "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 Ryder Cup, and everything else.

"Maybe this could be the spark that gets that all going again."

Shane Lowry (31), who finished second to McIlroy in 2014, will get a chance to show Ryder Cup skipper Bjorn and vice-captain Graeme McDowell that he's ready to challenge for a spot in the team for Paris at one of his favourite venues.

Bjorn will be keeping a weather-eye out for the in-form Paul Dunne (25) who goes out with Ernie Els and Matthew Fitzpatrick seeking a second European Tour win on English soil that would catapult him into the Ryder Cup reckoning as well as next month's US Open.

As for Pádraig Harrington (46), he'll be keeping a vice-captain's eye on Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ross Fisher at a venue that's far from a happy hunting ground while Darren Clarke  (49) will have low expectation as he plays for the first time in two months.

Moynihan heads seven-strong Irish in Czech Challenge

Mount Juliet touring professional Gavin Moynihan will be bidding to make his first tour cut since last November when he joins Jack Hume, Stuart Grehan, Michael Hoey, Jonathan Caldwell, Dermot McElroy and Gary Hurley in the Challenge Tour's D&D REAL Czech Challenge.

After winning €100,000 for his win with Dunne in the GolfSixes event in London earlier this month, he's clearly not playing as poorly as his results would suggest and may just need one confidence-boosting result to get back on track.

The Portrane native hasn't put money on the board on the European Tour since winning his card last year and is concentrating on improving his Challenge Tour ranking in the Czech Republic.

Séamus Power is the lone Irishman in action on the PGA Tour in Texas, joining Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler in the Forth Worth Invitational at Colonial Country Club.