BELFAST - Northern Ireland golfing superstar Rory McIlroy will be looking to kickstart an injury-plagued year by defending his Irish Open title at Portstewart this week.
While McIlroy described last year's stunning win at the K Club as "sentimental value" he heads into his home event looking now at the historical significance of becoming the first repeat winner in 20 years.
"Hopefully, I can kickstart my year after the injuries and time off I've had this year with a second Irish Open win," said the 28-year-old who pulled out of the PGA Championship in Wentworth last May because of a niggling rib injury.
The current World No. 3 heads a cast of nine major champions, 26 Ryder Cup stars and a dozen former winners in the richest ever Irish Open.
For McIlroy it will be the first occasion in his career he is defending champion at an event he acts also as host.
"It is going to be unique in my career and something I can say I have never enjoyed before in my career," he said.
"I am excited not just to be going back as defending champion but for all that goes on during Irish Open week as it has become a busy week for me."
A year ago, and with the weight of the entire Irish sporting community on his shoulders, McIlroy pulled off the shot of his season in landing his penultimate shot down the 72nd hole at the K Club to just two-feet and winning like the true champion in holing the eagle putt.
And the image of that 252-yard laser like second shot meant so much to McIlroy he wasted little time in pasting the picture as the backdrop to his Twitter page where it remains more than a year on.
"It's a cool photo with everyone around the green and it was one of the best shots I played all year, last year," said McIlroy who became the first Irishman since Padraig Harrington eight years earlier at Adare Manor to win the title.
"Winning a first Irish Open last year at the K Club is up there for sentimental value, I guess," he said.
"It hugely important for me and it was also hugely important in terms of my year last year as I went into the event not playing all that well and it was just so nice to get a win under my belt."
But McIlroy admits there is also a price that comes with the uniqueness of both hosting and defending the event.
"Given it is the Irish Open and I am the host does mean there is some extra pressure on my shoulders but ever since I have been contesting the Irish Open there has always been that extra pressure of the everyone wanting me to do so well that I carry on my shoulders," said McIlroy.
“It is something that I have struggled with in the past until last year as I felt last year was the first time I finally felt comfortable embracing that pressure of being the home favourite.
"But then to have the Irish Open return to the north two years after we were at County Down, and a few years more when we saw the crowds at Royal Portrush is amazing, and it will just be unbelievable if we get those same crowd numbers as we had in 2012 at Royal Portrush."
Meanwhile, four-time Major winner McIlroy revealed he would have to get some practice in early this week.
"The funny thing I have played every other golf course around Portstewart including Castlerock, Royal Portrush and many others but I just have not played competition at Portstewart."