Marana - Rory McIlroy makes his 2014 US debut Wednesday at the World Golf Championships Match Play Championship with hopes of a strong start after two top-10 European Tour showings.
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The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland, already a two-time major champion, shared second with Phil Mickelson at Abu Dhabi last month and shared ninth earlier this month at Dubai after ending last year with an Australian Open victory.
"It has been a nice positive start to the season," McIlroy said on Tuesday. "I have just tried to continue that the last couple of weeks, practiced hard.
"I have worked hard and I feel like I'm seeing the results of that now."
That effort gets its first competitive test when seventh-ranked McIlroy, a top seed in his quarter of the draw, opens the 64-man knockout event against American Boo Weekley.
"You have to get off to a fast start and be ready to go from the get-go," McIlroy said. "You have to choose your time to be aggressive but you have to get as many birdies as you can."
McIlroy, who is engaged to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, is a great contrast to outdoorsman Weekley, who enjoys hunting and fishing.
"I'm not sure we share many common interests," McIlroy said. "I've never been hunting before in my life."
McIlroy would face Britain's Lee Westwood in the second round if he wins and the Englishman ousts US ninth seed Harris English. Spanish second seed Sergio Garcia, English third seed Ian Poulter and South African fourth seed Charl Schwartzel could await him before the semi-finals.
"I know I'm playing Boo. I haven't looked at it after that," McIlroy said. "You just have to take it one match at a time. Looking forward to playing a little golf."
Saying what constitutes progress is tricky, McIlroy said, given the match-play format.
"I could shoot a 67 and be going home," McIlroy said. "It's hard to even put a number. If I get to the quarter-finals it's a good week."
For sure, it's better than last year at this time, when McIlroy was struggling after an equipment change and the questions about it.
"It's much more settled. Everything is much more in a good place," he said. "Compared to this time last year, it's so much different."
McIlroy says the year's first major, the Masters in April, is not yet a key focus as he works on his game in events this week and in south Florida the next two weeks.
"After these three weeks, it will be about the Masters and getting prepared for it," McIlroy said. "It's about these tournaments and trying to play well and trying to get a win under your belt."
This week, he says, that will require proper touch with his short game.
"You are going to have to chip really well," McIlroy said. "There are times when you are going to hit a good shot but you might not necessarily be on the green."