The Co Down man (30) makes his first start in 2020 seeking a triumph that could see him overhaul Brooks Koepka and return to the top of the world rankings for the first time since September 2015 – a wait of 1,597 days.
McIlroy went to world No 1 for the first time in March 2012, when he held off a charging Woods to win the Honda Classic.
Now Woods, who matched Sam Snead’s record with victory in the ZOZO Championship in Japan last year, can set a new record for PGA Tour wins with a ninth career victory at Torrey Pines.
McIlroy is the bookies’ favourite in his first start for eight weeks and he must overcome not only Woods and defending champion Justin Rose, but 2017 winner Jon Rahm, three-time champion Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and US Open champion Gary Woodland.
He’d love nothing more than to return to world No 1 with Woods in the field, believing the Masters champion (44) is the greatest player of all time.
“I still to this day don’t think people give him enough credit for what he has been through to get back to where he is,” McIlroy said last month. “If it’s not the best comeback in sports, it’s definitely one of them.”
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