McIlroy still seeking the perfect schedule
When Rory McIlroy tees off at Quail Hollow on Thursday he will have played only four competitive rounds in the last 51 days.
The reigning US Open champion tells us he plays his best golf when at his freshest and certainly there can be no excuse for golf fatigue as he heads into the meat of the 2012 season.
Those four rounds came at last month's Masters, where McIlroy's highly promising halfway position was squandered over a miserable weekend that left him tied for 40th place.
Just as he had done a year earlier, the Northern Ireland youngster had played sparingly before heading to Augusta. There was no competitive golf after the WGC event at Doral in early March.
McIlroy moved to the top of the world rankings after winning the Honda Classic in March. Photo: Getty
The fact that he wasn't ready to win a major then was nothing to do with the schedule he was following.
Perhaps, though, this year's version of McIlroy was undercooked heading into the first major of the year. Certainly there was something missing when he was looking to build on promising opening rounds of 71 and 69. He followed them with scores of 77 and 76.
On a course where a lack of precision is usually brutally exposed there is little room for rustiness and this may have been the root cause behind such a disappointing Masters challenge.
McIlroy's light early season schedule has been tailored to make sure there is plenty in the tank for a more hectic remainder of the year.
His results, though, suggest that he benefits from playing consecutive weeks. In early March when he won the Honda Classic, McIlroy had reached the final of the WGC Matchplay just seven days earlier.
And his victory at the Hong Kong Open at the end of last year came the week after playing for Ireland in the World Cup.
So this week it is perhaps prudent not to expect the kind of fireworks at Quail Hollow we witnessed two years ago when he fired a closing 62 to win by four strokes and land his maiden PGA Tour title.
His recent winning history suggests a sustained title challenge is more likely to materialise the following week at the prestigious Players' Championship.
By then any rust should have been shed in Charlotte - something which will be important when it comes to taking on the world's best on the demanding and unforgiving TPC Stadium course at Sawgrass.
McIlroy's sparse 2012 calendar so far has caused some to question his appetite for competitive golf. Reference was made in comments on this blog last week and others find it hard to fathom an apparent lack of desire to play more regularly.
But it is more that he hates to feel stale and jaded on the course. Furthermore the youngster, who turns 23 on Friday, has already reached a stage where he has the financial independence and clout to be independently selective of his events.
McIlroy's schedule building up to his US Open defence in June looks spot on. After the Players' he has a week's break before the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
Another week off is followed by Jack Nicklaus's Memorial event and then a clear week to hone his game for the second major of the year.
But he will only play the Irish Open between the US Open and the Open Championship which starts on 19 July. This gives McIlroy a full fortnight off before teeing it up at Royal Lytham. It is a risky strategy that potentially leaves him short of competitive edge ahead of the grandest major of all.
The PGA Championship is the only one of the big four competitions where he will play the week before, but this applies to all the leading contenders because the "warm-up" tournament is the World Golf Championships Invitational in Akron.
Different players have varying approaches to scheduling. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are very much in the selective McIlroy mould.
So is Luke Donald, who like the man he has just displaced as world number one, has the added pressure of fulfilling the minimum tournament requirements of the PGA and European Tours.
In his pomp, Padraig Harrington was convinced he played his best golf in the third week of a run of three tournaments while Colin Montgomerie simply wanted to play himself into form by competing week in, week out.
It is all about finding what works best and McIlroy is pretty close to the correct formula. His results suggest as much, but I wonder if he may end up considering fewer lengthy pre-major breaks in the seasons to come.