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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Rory McIlroy to head up the road to Dubai with 'game in good shape' after tied third in Abu Dhabi

Northern Irishman 'really happy' with form and fitness after finishing on 18-under at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, right, and caddie Harry Diamond shake hands after finishing on the 18th green during the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. McIlroy finished tied for third place on 18-under. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, right, and caddie Harry Diamond shake hands after finishing on the 18th green during the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. McIlroy finished tied for third place on 18-under. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Rory McIlroy seldom needs any extra reasons to look forward to a trip to Dubai. The four-time major winner often feels as much a son of the city as he is Holywood, his actual home town in Northern Ireland.

He first played the Omega Dubai Desert Classic 12 years ago, age just 16, as an amateur on a sponsor’s invite. Back then, he used to look forward to whiling away his spare time at his mate’s villa in Jumeirah, playing with his dog and his Xbox.

Three years later, the Classic was his first win as a professional. In total, he has won four times across the city’s two tournaments, which accounts for nearly a third of all his European Tour wins to date.

And, given how he performed in Abu Dhabi over the past four days, he will have had an extra pep in his step heading up the E11 to Dubai.

McIlroy’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, might have fizzled out just as Tommy Fleetwood’s caught fire down the final nine.

His eventual tally of 18-under, though, represented a fine body of work, seeing as he had been away from competitive golf for more than 100 days because of injury.

It was good enough for a tie for third place – his seventh top-three finish in the past seven years in the capital – and he thinks it augurs well for Dubai.

“It’s a golf course I know very well,” McIlroy said of the Majlis at Emirates Golf Club, where the Classic starts on Thursday.

“My game is in good shape, so I have no doubt if I can play the same way I played this week, I'll have a good chance again.

“It's just a matter of dust myself off and, looking back on this week, I think it's been a huge success for me, even though I didn't win today. I felt like I got a lot out of it, and I'm excited to get back at it again next week.”

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Fleetwood, the Abu Dhabi champion, endorsed that view. Having seen him close up as a playing partner in the first two rounds at the National Course, he believes McIlroy can return to the winner’s circle again soon.

“Whenever you've had a long period off, you always sort of plan for a bit of rust,” Fleetwood said of McIlroy.

“Not necessarily how you hit it, but just how you go about playing golf.

“I thought he looked great. I think he'll win more than once this year, easily. It was good playing with him.”

It is the first time the Abu Dhabi and Dubai events have been played in consecutive weeks. The workload might test McIlroy, given his lack of time on the fairways of late, but he is happy with his fitness.

“Where I've come from the last three months just in terms of my health and my golf, I'm in a much better place now than when I left the game for a little bit in October,” he said.

“I am really happy with that, and just looking forward to trying to put myself in contention again and try to get my name on that trophy one more time in Dubai.”

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