Ryder Cup success with Europe among Rory McIlroy's chief aims for 2018
Asked in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday what excited him most about his 2018, Rory McIlroy’s initial response was somewhat surprising.
Returning to full health was mentioned, of course, with the former world No 1 back in action this week for the first time since a persistent rib injury terminated prematurely his 2017 season last October.
Getting back into the major-winner’s circle was another, with McIlroy having not yet added to the four elite titles he had won by 2014. Slip into a first Green Jacket at the Masters in April, and McIlroy becomes only the sixth golfer in history to complete the career Grand Slam.
Yet, on Tuesday, both individual objectives were trumped by a collective conquest. At least, in the chronology of his delivery.
“Ryder Cup year is obviously something that you always look forward to,” said McIlroy, on site at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA. “Especially after what happened at Hazeltine a couple of years ago. Excited to hopefully be on that team and try to get a Ryder Cup win for Europe.”
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Winning back the trophy, that is. Europe’s dominance in the biennial battle against the United States - they had won eight of 10 dating back to 1995 - was disrupted at Hazeltine 15 months ago, when they were duly beaten by the Americans. Apparently, the 17-11 defeat signalled the denouement of Europe’s stranglehold and dawn of long-lasting US supremacy.
As it is, McIlroy accepts the holders appear well placed to retain the crown heading into Le Golf National, just outside Paris, in September. However, he rejects the notion that Europe have anything to fear.
“Look, the Americans are very strong, and for the first time in a long time, they have a real cohesion,” said McIlroy, who emerged at Hazeltine as Europe's lead protagonist. “All the younger guys get along great. There's a real core group of players there that will be around for a long time. So they’re going to be very strong.
“But if you look at Hazeltine last time and how they set up that golf course - big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens - it wasn't set up for the way the Europeans like to play. Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so it will be so different.
“So I'm confident. I obviously need to make the team first, but everything being all well and good, I'll be on that team and I feel like we'll have a really good chance. The Americans have been obviously very buoyant about their chances, but it's never as easy as that.
"The Ryder Cup's always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. But we'll have a great team. It definitely won't be as easy as they think it's going to be.”
The National Course - hole by hole
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