McIlroy announced his arrival to an admiring American audience when he shot a final round 62 at Quail Hollow in 2010, a year after his first professional win at the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic.
He has played the PGA Tour event every year since, finishing outside the top-10 only once with a missed cut in 2011.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago (2010) but great to be back,” McIlroy told reporters after playing in Wednesday’s pro-am with Grace Vaughan, a 16-year-old with a blood disorder who won an essay contest to play with any professional of her choosing.
McIlroy opted to compete this week but his busy schedule means he will reluctantly miss the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial tournament in early June, two weeks before the U.S. Open.
The Northern Irish world number one loves the event at Muirfield Village in Ohio so much that he wrote Nicklaus a letter to apologise for his absence.
By coincidence, he then met Nicklaus on Monday at the Bears Club in Florida, where they both have their primary residence.
“The first thing he (Nicklaus) said to me was that he’d received my letter and I said to him I wanted to write rather than phone or just advise the tour. He seemed pretty taken back to get my letter and that made me feel good,” McIlroy, 26, said.
The four-time major winner heads a strong field at Quail Hollow that includes nine of the world’s top 20.
LOW SCORING ON THE CARDS
Australia’s former world number one Adam Scott felt the course was set up well and that low scores would be possible, but not guaranteed.
“It’s not soft. It’s not firm. It’s just nice,” the Australian said while patiently signing hundreds of autographs on his way from the 18th green to the clubhouse.
The tournament is being played two weeks later in the schedule this year and American Webb Simpson, who lives adjacent to the seventh hole, believes the later time slot has helped the course condition after a wretched February of snow and ice.
“The course has appreciated a couple more weeks,” Simpson said. “The course is beautiful and the greens super fast.
“Even if this place wasn’t my home, I would still have this as one of my top courses of the year.”
Strong though the field is, few regular PGA Tour events attract all the big names and this week is no exception.
Among those missing are Tiger Woods, Masters champion Jordan Spieth and Players Championship winner Rickie Fowler.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)