MEXICO CITY — Even during his seven weeks away from competition, Rory McIlroy managed to stay relevant.
He started last week by accepting an invitation to play golf with President Donald Trump. It was his first 18 holes since he played through a rib injury at the South African Open. McIlroy ended the week by playing a match against Dustin Johnson.
"Quite a week for me," he said Tuesday. "I got to play with the president of the United States and the best golfer in the world."
He returns this week at the Mexico Championship, and this is no time for a siesta.
The Masters — the only major keeping McIlroy from the career Grand Slam — starts in 37 days. One positive aspect from so much time off so early in the season is that McIlroy has been more consumed with recovering from a hairline fracture of his rib than with his pursuit of an elusive green jacket.
Then again, that time off gave him a good view of the competition.
Consider the last four weeks alone. Hideki Matsuyama won the Phoenix Open for his fifth victory in his last nine tournaments worldwide. Jordan Spieth got back into the race for No. 1 when he won Pebble Beach. Johnson reached No. 1 the following week with a five-shot lead at Riviera. And then Rickie Fowler showed up last week at the Honda Classic, finished bogey-bogey and still won by four shots.
It's what led Jack Nicklaus to say Sunday that he couldn't recall golf ever being so top-heavy with talent.
"I think you've got more good players in the game today — that have a chance to win a major championship — than you've ever had in the history of the game," Nicklaus said. "And I don't often say that." I mean, we had a pretty good era when I played, not much of an era when Tiger played. Not much of an era when Arnold was playing. And prior to that they had Hogan, Snead, Nelson, which was a pretty good era.
"But not the number that they have today."
No one has really noticed McIlroy missing because so many top players are winning.
The question is how quickly he can recover.
"I don't feel that far behind," McIlroy said. "I come in here this week with a chance to get back to No. 1 in the world. But in terms of maybe preparation and just rounds played, I haven't had that. So hopefully over these next three competitive weeks that I'm playing — here, Bay Hill and Match Play — I can get that. And hopefully, I feel like I've played enough to go into Augusta and feel ready."