By Simon Evans
PALM BEACH GARDENS (Reuters) - World number one Rory McIlroy begins the countdown to his 'career grand slam' bid at the Masters in this week's Honda Classic and says he feels entirely comfortable being the face of the sport.
The decline of Tiger Woods, who is on a break from the game after his form and injury problems, only heightens the attention on the Northern Irishman who has three events before he tees up at Augusta looking to win all four majors by the age of 25.
Asked whether he was comfortable being the main star of the sport, McIlroy was emphatic in his response.
"Yes. Because it's what I've always wanted to do. I would be wasting my time if I was out there practicing as much as I do and putting as much into it if I didn't want to be in this position, and wasting the people's time around me, as well, that helped me get to this point," he told a news conference.
"Of course I want to be that guy. I said it last year, golf is waiting for someone like that to step forward, put their hand up and win the big tournaments.
"Yeah, this is the position I want to be in and I want to be in it as long as I can," he said.
McIlroy's goals this year include adding significantly to his nine PGA Tour wins but clearly Augusta, where has managed just one top-10 finish in six attempts, looms on the horizon.
After this week's event at PGA National, McIlroy will compete at Doral in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and then, for the first time, appear at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March.
"I feel like I've got a nice schedule going into Augusta. I'm not playing too much, but I'm playing just enough that I should be as sharp as possible going in there," McIlroy said.
Having resolved his legal problems with his former agents this month and with a victory in Dubai under his belt, McIlroy looks and sounds relaxed.
"I really haven't felt as settled since coming in here, 2011, 2012. I feel like everything that's happened at the start of this year, it's like a clear road ahead. It's so nice just to be able to focus on golf and put all my time and effort into that."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)