x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Abu Dhabi is the perfect place to start the season, says Rory McIlroy

The Irishman is pleased be able to get his game in shape with the sun on his back in the UAE capital for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Rory McIlroy talks to the media before playing the start of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Rory McIlroy talks to the media before playing the start of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

ABU DHABI // Rory McIlroy is hoping his affinity for golf in the Gulf can kick-start his season at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this week and set the scene for more major successes.

The 22-year-old Ulsterman won his first tour title at the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic and he has strong sponsorship ties to the neighbouring emirate, which is having to play second fiddle this year to the Abu Dhabi tournament.

He also chose Dubai as the spot to rest and recuperate at the hind end of last year, which saw him struggling to recover from a bout of dengue fever.

After that he spent some days at home in Belfast before heading to Thailand to spend New Year with his family and tennis-champion girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.

Then in mid-January it was back to Dubai again as he prepared for a season during which many people believe he will build on his impressive US Open title win of last year and take on the mantle of world number one.

"Obviously the weather at home at the minute isn't too good to practise in, so to come out here and get your game in shape and really put in a couple of weeks' time – this is the perfect place to start," he said.

"I felt like I've sort of done that the last couple of years, without obviously winning.

"You'd like to go out -- not so much to make a statement or any sort of intention -- but just for yourself, to know that what you might have been working on in the off-season is coming together nicely and gives you a bit of momentum going into the next few events."

The next few events will gradually lead McIlroy, and the rest of the golfing world, to Augusta National in early April, where the Irishman dramatically came to grief last year at the Masters.

Leading by four going into the final round, he was left in despair as he slumped to an 80 that put him into a tie for 15th place behind South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, who birdied the tough last four holes to win his first major.

But just two months later he rebounded in spectacular style to win the US Open at Congressional Golf Club in Washington DC by a runaway eight strokes.

McIlroy, though, was at pains to douse talk of multi-major titles and world number one rankings.

"I'm not really one to set targets like, 'I want to win four tournaments this year,' 'I want to win this' or 'I want to win that,'" he said.

"I'm more focused on the process of trying to become a better player and if I do that then obviously that will make it easier to win tournaments."

McIlroy also confirmed that he would be spending more time this year in the United States, where he says he feels increasingly comfortable, citing a growing fondness for American football.

"The only thing I'm still trying to get into is baseball, but it is tough to get into that," he added.