Rory McIlroy has laughed off the return of an unflattering description of his place in golf's 'Fab Four' and insists he has the desire to regain top billing.

McIlroy's most recent spell as world number one started after he followed victory in the 2014 Open with another in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but ended a year later after he returned from being sidelined with an ankle injury suffered playing football.

The 28-year-old had slipped to fourth behind Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day ahead of the 2016 Open, which prompted one newspaper to suggest he was in danger of becoming Ringo Starr in golf's version of the Beatles.

And almost exactly a year later, McIlroy again finds himself fourth in the rankings - this time behind Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Spieth - ahead of the defence of his Dubai Duty Free Irish Open title, which gets under way this morning.

"Back to Ringo," McIlroy said with a laugh when the subject was raised in his pre-tournament press conference.

"Does it bother me? Yeah, look, it bothers me I'm not where I want to be. But I feel like there's been a couple of things that have been out of my control this year that have led to that with the injuries and stuff.

"Like I've said all along, winning golf tournaments and playing well takes care of the rankings. It's funny, I don't look at it as much now as I would if I was number one. If I was Dustin Johnson, I would be looking at that thing every Monday morning.

"I know where I am and I realise that I'm a long way off where I want to be, but I can't think about that at the minute. I just have to think about trying to win golf tournaments, trying to get in contention again at golf tournaments, first of all."

McIlroy's last win was hardly a long time ago, victory in the Tour Championship last September seeing him claim the overall FedEx Cup title and the $10m bonus.

But a rib injury suffered testing equipment over the winter means the Northern Irishman has played just eight events in 2017 and he trails Johnson by almost five points in the rankings.

Johnson's form has dipped following the back injury which prevented him from seeking a fourth win in a row at the Masters, while former world number one Jason Day has slipped to sixth in the rankings.

"I think we were spoiled in the 2000s with Tiger (Woods)," added McIlroy. "There's been guys that have been able to play that level of golf for six months, nine months maybe, but not being able to keep that form for six, seven, eight years.

"I know where I am and I realise that I'm a long way off where I want to be"

"I think that's testament to just how driven and how good Tiger was. I'd love to get to that point and being able to keep that for a long time. But I think you have to realise there are going to be ebbs and flows in your career.

"If you look at my career I've played in bursts, where I really get on for six months or nine months. And I'm not saying that I'm accepting that. I wish it was different. I wish I could sustain that and be able to keep that going for a longer period of time.

"It's nearly my 10th year as a pro but the next 10 years is where I really want to start to make hay and win a lot of tournaments and be in contention in a lot of majors.

"I'm sort of hitting the prime of my career now and I'd love to be able to get on a sustained run like Tiger did back then. It will take a lot of work, a lot of drive, a lot of practise, but I'm willing to do that.

"Right now, I feel like I'm in with a group of guys that could all have a chance to be number one in the world or the best player in the world and hopefully over these next few years, I can maybe separate myself."

McIlroy has at least singled out which putter he will use going forward after trying three different models in three rounds on his last start. Unsurprisingly, the TaylorMade TP blade which produced a closing 64 in the Travelers Championship was the one to make the grade.