Rory McIlroy believes making his Pebble Beach Pro Am debut will boost his chances of winning a maiden Masters title – the last piece of a career grand slam puzzle.
The four-time major champion is coming off an injury-interrupted and winless 2017, but says a three-and-a-half month break has him feeling refreshed ahead of his first PGA Tour event of the year.
McIlroy has never played the Pebble Beach event and typically avoids most the US Tour's west coast swing in favour of the European Tour's Middle East events.
The 28-year-old arrives at California's famed Monterey Peninsula coming off squandered chances to win his previous two events at Abu Dhabi and Dubai, settling for a share of third and a runner-up.
But the former World No.1 says he's glad to be healthy enough to play a heavy schedule leading up to Augusta National.
Last year, a rib injury the Northern Irishman suffered in January forced him to sit out for seven weeks and arrive at the Masters having played just three US events.
"Once I get to Augusta, one excuse I won't have is not being prepared (or) under-golfed and I'll have played a lot of tournament golf leading up to it," said McIlroy, who still managed a tie for seventh at Augusta.
"There might have been times when Augusta would have been my sixth event of the year and, in those previous five events, I might not have (been) in contention or had a chance to win.
"I feel the best way to prepare for (the Masters) is to be in contention; feeling those nerves down the stretch."
McIlroy has two wins at the US PGA Championship in addition to Open Championship and US Open titles, but with a Masters green jacket he would become just the sixth golfer in history to win all four majors.
Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have achieved that feat.
"I want to be one of the best players to ever have played the game when I decide to call it a day," McIlroy said at Pebble Beach on Wednesday.
"I know with the right dedication and working on the right things that that could be achievable for me."
"I think I have a great window of opportunity over the next 10 or 12 years to play great golf and to leave my mark on the game."
Winless since the 2016 Tour Championship, McIlroy says a voluntary break from October to January, his longest since turning professional in 2007, was a success.
"There was a little bit of ... recalibration of what I need to do to be at that level," McIlroy said.
- Evin Priest, Australian Associated Press