McIlroy had such an start-and-stop year in 2017 that when asked who played more golf, McIlroy or his father, the answer was obvious by his smile.

“Him,” he said.

Gerry McIlroy spends most of his day at Seminole Golf Club in Florida, not far from where his son and daughter-in-law live. It’s only fitting that the McIlroys are playing the opening three rounds at Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula and Pebble Beach with Phil Mickelson. Lefty’s partner is Jimmy Dunne, the club president at Seminole. No need for introductions.

The AT&T makes wise exceptions on pairings, allowing McIlroy to play with his father as only one example. Why wouldn’t any tournament want the four-time major champion, former No. 1 player in the world and a player who still looks to be one victory away from zooming back to where he belongs near the very top of golf?

“It’s a tournament that I’ve always watched and I’ve always thought one day it would be really cool to play with my dad, and fortunately we were able to get him in and play,” McIlroy said. “And we’ve played the last three days and it’s been a lot of fun and just hope he hasn’t tired himself out.”

That led to another question. If he could come back in another life, would he rather be Gerry McIlroy or Rory McIlroy?

“It would probably be Gerry McIlroy post-50,” McIlroy said. “Because the first 50 years of his life were a little tougher, working three jobs and trying to raise me. But yeah, Gerry McIlroy post-50 is pretty good.”

And now he sets off to be the Rory McIlroy of old, whose graceful blend of power and balance leads so many to believe that he’s the man to beat when he’s on his game.

“He’s a guy that’s not afraid of going low and lapping the field,” Jason Day said, who finished eight shots behind when McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open. “He’s not afraid, which is how champions think.”

Looming is the Masters in two months, the major McIlroy lacks for the career Grand Slam. McIlroy has ramped up his schedule ahead of Augusta National, with six tournaments on his schedule between now and then.

There’s a lot to make him excited. Winning would be even better.