x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Rory McIlroy hopes practice makes perfect after Abu Dhabi championship exit

Rory McIlroy is set to spend the next few weeks shaking off the off-season rust that contributed to his lacklustre showing on the National course, writes Steve Elling

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy follows a shot during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy follows a shot during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship

Even at age 23, Rory McIlroy does not need lessons on the capriciousness of golf.

A few days after the disclosure of a deal with Nike reportedly worth in excess of US$100 million (Dh367.3m), and after pocketing a lucrative appearance fee for the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and was paired with Tiger Woods, he shot a pair of 75s and failed to make the cut.

The off-season rust was self-evident, as was his level of discomfort with some of his new equipment, specifically his putter, which he ditched after 18 holes.

While much of the post-event hand-wringing centred on the wisdom of the world No 1's big-money equipment change, it might be misplaced. He will make the transition; it is just a matter of when.

Practice rounds are not as instructive or constructive as facing live tournament fire. Thorbjorn Olesen, in contrast, is playing in all three Desert Swing events.

The young Dane is getting his new titanium toys dialled in quickly. McIlroy, not so much.

After he flamed out in two days, there were suggestions that McIlroy might add next week's Dubai Desert Classic to his schedule simply to get in more rounds.

It is not going to happen. McIlroy's manager confirmed that the world No 1 will not play until the Accenture Match Play Championships late next month.

That is a five-week break. Meanwhile, he will practice. Plenty.

Now, as for that capriciousness thing. Last year, McIlroy advanced to the finals of the match-play event. The year before, he was cut to pieces in the second round by Ben Crane, absorbing an 8-and-7 beating. The point being, after logging two rounds at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, he could get sent home from the match-play event in three hours or he might last all five days.

McIlroy will play three weeks in a row, starting with the match-play week in Arizona, followed by the two events near his new home in south Florida, the Honda Classic and Cadillac Championship. He then will play in Houston two weeks before the Masters.

If McIlroy gets bounced on the first day of the match play, he will have logged a total of three tour rounds in two months as he heads to his title defence at the Honda in March. There is one benefit to taking the absentee route, as Padraig Harrington pointed out last weekend.

At least McIlroy will not be pestered with the same queries about his schedule, the equipment move and the state of his game, over the next five weeks.

"As much as you try to keep your head down, the media is going to ask him the same leading questions," Harrington said. "You get asked a question enough and it gets into your head."

 

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