Rory McIlroy

The defending PLAYERS Champion, PGA Tour Champion, Tour Player of the Year and arguably the best player on the planet, Rory McIlroy, is making his 2020 debut this week at Torrey Pines. Outside of a little media-driven drama with Brooks Koepka, the reigning world no.1, McIlroy somehow managed to fly under the radar last year as far as the headlines were concerned. That’s despite his four wins, 14 top-10 finishes and the accolades previously noted.

The new decade seemed to be starting off the same way for former world no.1, too, with much of the focus on Tiger’s 2020 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open this week as well. Now, though, he’s flying a little less under the radar.

Currently ranked no.2, McIlroy has the chance to reclaim the top spot as early as this week with a win — and his chances are good. As of the last update, the Irishman is the favorite to win the Farmers at +600. And it’s definitely on his mind.

“There was a point in the middle of last year where I was, like, four points behind Brooks. And then, once I won the Tour Championship and then in China [WGC-HSBC Champions], I kind of saw that gap closing,” McIlroy told Golf Digest this week. “Then it sort of became, ‘Huh, I’m actually close.’”

McIlroy isn’t a lock by any means, though. Third-ranked Jon Rahm and one Tiger Woods have favorable odds to take the Farmers, too, at +750 and +1000, respectively. And McIlroy has never won a season debut — if you can believe that — finishing top-five in 10 of 12 such events, according to @JustinRayGolf.

Nonetheless, the silver lining: Rory kicked off last season’s campaign at Torrey Pines as well — his first pro appearance at the course — finishing T-5. You’d think he’d be able to top that now that he’s familiar with the course, and knows he can score there. And after his red-hot finish to the 2018 season, the stars are aligning, right?

If you ask Rory, whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. “Look, it’s on the radar,” he told Golf Digest in the same interview. “If it doesn’t happen this week, I’ll have chances in the future.”

Seems inevitable at this point.

McIlroy’s paired with Cameron Smith and Brant Snedeker for the opening round of the Farmers. Stick with Golf Channel for live coverage of the early rounds, and CBS for his possible weekend run.