Rory McIlroy: Couldn't envision quick return to possible No. 1 ranking

SAN DIEGO -- Rory McIlroy has a chance to return to No. 1 in the world this week for the first time since late in 2015.

That's not something he saw coming as recently as July, when he missed the cut at The Open, playing at Portrush, Northern Ireland, near his hometown.

"Definitely not," McIlroy said Wednesday at Torrey Pines, where he is making his 2020 debut in the Farmers Insurance Open. "But I've played consistently good golf since that point. I learned a lot of things at Portrush that I've put into my game, into my preparation, into my thought process going into other tournaments. And I've had a pretty good run since then.

"But no, it wasn't even on my radar when I was flying back from Northern Ireland in July."

And it wasn't really even among his goals for 2020, McIlroy said, although achieving the statistical marks he sets for himself might have accomplished the feat anyway.

McIlroy would need to win this week to surpass Brooks Koepka, who has played just three tournaments since the Tour Championship due to a knee injury.

Ranked third in the world behind Koepka and Dustin Johnson after missing the cut at The Open, McIlroy has been on an impressive run since then, with just two finishes outside of the top 10 in 10 starts.

Included were victories at the Tour Championship and the WGC-HSBC Champions, as well as four other top-four finishes.

"I don't think it irks me or gets me annoyed that I'm not holding that position," McIlroy said of the No. 1 ranking. "I feel like if I go about my business and I try to do the right things all the time, if I played well enough for a sustained period of time, hopefully I get there."

Among McIlroy's goals for the year is a pretty obvious one: to get a major championship that has been missing since he won his fourth at the PGA Championship in 2014.

He would also like to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the Masters.

"When I look back at the majors I've won and done well in, I've always started well," he said. "Three of the four majors last year, I had started slow. That's something I'm going to try and improve this year."

McIlroy took considerable time off following his last event in November at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, the season-ending European Tour event. He spent Christmas in Northern Ireland and elected to come back to Torrey Pines, where he tied for fifth a year ago.

He expects to have another busy year. With the Olympics and Ryder Cup mixed in, McIlroy said his busiest stretch will come around the U.S. Open, when he plans to play five straight weeks: the Irish Open, the Memorial, the Canadian Open (where he is defending champion), the U.S. Open and the Travelers Championship.

It appears McIlroy will skip the WGC-FedEx St. Jude, where he finished tied for fourth last year, due to the schedule crunch. He will then have The Open, the Olympics and the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"That five-week stretch is going to be a big one," he said. "And then sort of trying to give yourself a few weeks' break in there."