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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Rory McIlroy hits 'reset' to focus on strong start to 2018 at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Rory McIlroy has arrived in Abu Dhabi refreshed and rejuvenated, and looks well for it, too.

"I've actually put on about two kilos since October," he said on Tuesday, when asked if he had lost weight. "But obviously that's two good kilos."

McIlroy has to UAE to thank, in part, for trimming the fat both physically and mentally, given he spent a significant chunk of his three-and-a-half months away from competitive golf convalescing in the Emirates.

It is where the Northern Irishman first began his rehab having shut down his 2017 season in October, his campaign curtailed by a rib injury sustained in January. It forced him to withdraw from last year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, a tournament in which he has four runner-up finishes from his past six attempts.

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The road to recovery started towards the end of October, with McIlroy back hitting balls again during a month-long stay in Dubai. He enjoyed Thanksgiving Stateside with Erica, his American wife, then Christmas in New York and New Year in Ireland.

By January 5, McIlroy had touched down again in Dubai. Since, he has been practicing and playing in preparation for Abu Dhabi this week. It marks the beginning to McIlroy’s 2018 season, but also the conclusion to a frustrating 2017 in which he ended the calendar year without a tournament victory for the first time in nine years. Having hit "reset" and with "a little bit of a sabbatical" under his belt, understandably he is raring to go.

“I'm excited to be back at a golf tournament,” McIlroy said. “It's been a while. The last few months have been really nice to concentrate on a few things I needed to take care of in terms of getting myself fit and healthy to come back, and sharpen up a few things in my game.

“Obviously this is the first real test of getting back and seeing how I am. So I'm looking forward to just getting out there and seeing how I perform when I need to. It's a place I've done well before and obviously a golf course I know well, so it's a comfortable place to come back and make a fresh start to the year.”

His demeanour certainly suggested as much. The hard work, as such, begins on Thursday, when McIlroy tees it up alongside world No 1 Dustin Johnson and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood.

He plays next week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic as well, setting in motion a busier-than-usual schedule in the build-up to the Masters in April. Still, he is not getting ahead of himself.

“The next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,” McIlroy said. “I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I'll walk away from the two events and I'll definitely have things to work on and maybe think about going into that stretch in the States.

The National Course - hole by hole

“I can't really answer what I want to walk away with, but I think the next two weeks will be quite revealing to see where I'm at with my game.”

Even so, for a former world No 1 and four-time major champion, competitive juices are hard to stem.

“I'd love to win again,” said McIlroy, now 11th in the rankings. “I don't think there's any better feeling than winning a golf tournament. From everything that I've seen in practise and playing over the past few weeks, there's no reason to think that it's not that far away.”

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