worLD No 2 Rory McIlroy says a more mature approach to his game can help him add to his trophy haul when he makes his seventh straight appearance at the Dubai Desert Classic today.
McIlroy, 22, first appeared at the Dubai tournament as a precocious 16-year-old in 2006 and won the event in 2009 – his first European Tour victory.
The Ulsterman then bounced back from an agonising near-miss at last year’s Masters to romp to a record eight-shot triumph at the US Open.
“I feel like I’ve definitely matured a lot this past year as a golfer and probably just as a person as well,” said McIlory. “I feel like I can play more controlled golf when I need to. When you’re not playing as well, you need to know your limitations, reel it back in a little bit and play the percentages a bit more.”
This approach worked for McIlroy at last month’s Abu Dhabi Championship, where only a two-stroke penalty denied him victory as he lost out by a shot to Robert Rock.
“I don’t feel like the golf I played in Abu Dhabi deserved to win,” said McIlory. “I scored very well and was able to get myself into contention, which was great.”
McIlroy was paired with 14-times major winner Tiger Woods in three out of the four rounds in Abu Dhabi and was full of praise for the former world No 1. “I’d spent a little bit of time with him before that, but not as much as I did then,” said McIlroy. “It was nice to play with him and I felt pretty relaxed out there in his company and we chatted the whole way around.”
Woods has dropped to 18th in the world rankings and has not won a major since the 2008 US Open, suffering a collapse in form in the wake of revelations about his private life. But he looked close to hitting top form after taking a share of third in Abu Dhabi. He is playing in this week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in California.
“Pebble at this time of the year can be a bit of a lottery, with the weather and you’ve got the three courses, so you don’treally know what to expect,” said McIlroy. “But he’s got a great record at Pebble. What I’ve seen of him in Abu Dhabi, it looks like he’s well on his way to returning to some great form.”
Rock took last week off following the biggest win of his life, but is now knuckling down to the task of putting himself on the world stage more often. At 58th in the rankings, the 34-year-old Englishman looks safe for a place in the 64-man Accenture world matchplay championship in Arizona later this month.
The field for that is determined this weekend but Rock is also looking to be in the top 50 at the end of next month so that he secures his debut in The Masters. “I didn’t think that would be in the pipeline in the next few years but I’ve got the opportunity to play in a few big tournaments if I can keep up a decent run,” he said.
Paul Lawrie, the winner in Qatar and bidding for a fifth successive top-10 finish, spearheads a Scottish challenge in Dubai that also includes Colin Montgomerie, Richie Ramsay, Scott Jamieson, Stephen Gallacher, Peter Whiteford, George Murray, David Drysdale, Marc Warren and Dubai-based Ross Bain, who has secured an invite.
World No 3 Lee Westwood has come 17th and 12th the last two weeks and will be expected to maintain that improvement on a course where he lost a play-off to Miguel Angel Jimenez two years ago.