The 31-year-old is teeing up in the UAE event for the 11th time, having finished second on three occasions and third in three other strong title challenges.
McIlroy has world No 3 Justin Thomas among his rivals this time around at Abu Dhabi National Golf Club in the opening event of the new 2021 European Tour season.
But the Northern Irishman is feeling quietly confident that he can get his year off to a flying start on one of the most demanding courses on the circuit.“It's a great way to start the year. It's a big event,” McIlroy told reporters “Got some great players here. Obviously JT (Thomas) has made the trip over, as well.“Also our (Europe’s) Ryder Cup points starting again, so a lot of guys will want to start well and get themselves off to a fast start in regards to that, too.“But, yeah, really excited to be back. It's a golf course I've done well at and played well on. I've done everything but win here and, yeah, I'll try again and see if I can get the job done.”McIlroy, who recorded his last victory in the HSBC Champions in China in November 2019, recovered from a poor start to finish in a tie for fifth behind Dustin Johnson in The Masters in November.
His long-time coach, Michael Bannon, flew over to Florida to do some work with him before Christmas and McIlroy has identified some areas of his game that need to improve this year.“There were a couple of stats that stood out to me last year that I needed to be a little bit better at,” he admitted.“One of the things was approach play out of the rough, which is sort of random, but I hit 60 percent of fairways, so that means 40 percent of the time I'm hitting out of the rough.
“Which is quite a lot, and my performance out of the rough last year was way down than what it was the previous year.”
Referring to his putting, he added: “Between four and eight feet wasn't quite as good as it was the previous year. I want to get those better.”
McIlroy is making his first appearance on the European circuit since it entered a “strategic alliance” with the PGA Tour, adding his voice to a chorus of praise for that development.
“It obviously leads to more cohesion of the professional game as a whole,” he said. “I think at the minute, the professional game is a little fractured. It has been fractured for quite a while.
“There's so many different entities. You've got the major organisations. You've got the tours.
“I think, if anything, what Covid did is sort of help all these entities work better together and understand what their needs are and what the situation they are in.
“I think it just makes everything a little more cohesive and by the governing bodies and the Tour working better together, I think it will just make it a more streamlined product for the players, for the media, for the consumer, basically for everyone.”