By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy says he is excited about his Northern Trust Open debut this week at Riviera Country Club as he starts his tournament build-up in the United States for the Masters in April.
While the opening major championship of the year will be firmly in his mind over the next two months, McIlroy has long desired to compete at Riviera, which is consistently ranked by the players as one of the top courses on the PGA Tour.
"I wanted to come here because of what I had seen on TV, and the great things that people say about Riviera," world number three McIlroy, 26, told reporters on Wednesday after playing in the pre-tournament pro-am competition.
"And this was the perfect timing. I had a week off after all the stuff I did in the Middle East (on the European Tour), and that gave me time to sort of regroup and get myself over to the West Coast. It just fitted into the schedule."
The iconic par-71 layout at Riviera is a ball-striker's paradise where long, medium and short hitters can all thrive.
"It's a real treat when you come to a golf course like this where it's not overly long, you don't have to really bomb it off the tee, but it's real strategic," said McIlroy, a four-times major winner.
"It's a real thinker's golf course and it's a real treat to play something like this because we don't get to play them that often anymore."
McIlroy will be making his first PGA Tour appearance of the year this week after recording top-six finishes in his last three events on the European Tour dating back to November -- all three of them in the United Arab Emirates.
"A couple of things in Dubai I wasn't quite happy with, so I worked on those in Florida last week," he said, referring to his tie for sixth at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this month.
"I tweaked my driver a little bit. I felt like I was struggling to turn it over from right-to-left, so I put the loft up. I felt like the rest of my game was in pretty good shape."
McIlroy has plenty of top-quality tournament golf on his schedule between now and the April 7-10 Masters, including next week's Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens and the first two World Golf Championships events of the year.
"These tournaments that we've got coming up, we've got some of the strongest fields of the year," said the Northern Irishman.
"This is the start of the road to the Masters and for everyone, if not thinking about it directly, it's definitely in the back of their minds. Obviously I'd love my game to be in peak shape for Augusta in April."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)