Refreshed McIlroy returns to Abu Dhabi, hopes ‘to get job done’ - GulfToday

Refreshed McIlroy returns to Abu Dhabi, hopes ‘to get job done’

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy, who became a father last year, returns to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after a gap of two years. File / Reuters

Armed with a new outlook on life, Rory McIlroy is eager to get over a torrid 2020 and hit the reset button in Abu Dhabi at a tournament that has frustrated him as much as rewarded him.

The 31-year-old Northern Irishman, who became a father last year, returns to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after a gap of two years.

In his previous 10 appearances, McIlroy has finished second four times and third on three occasions. Apart from a solitary missed cut in 2013, he has just one finish outside the top-10 - a tied-11th place in his first visit to the UAE capital in 2008.

He is a whopping 128-under par for his 38 rounds at the event, giving him a lofty stroke average of 68.

“It’s good to be back. I started my season in Abu Dhabi for 10 straight years until 2018 and it’s worked well for me. I’ve played well here. I enjoy playing this style of golf in the desert,” said the four-time major champion.

“It’s a golf course I’ve done well at and played well on. I’ve done everything but win here and yeah... I’ll try again and see if I can get the job done.

“I have never been frustrated by my finishes here. It is the first event of the year and you come here trying to see where your game is. I haven’t walked away disappointed with the seconds and thirds, instead, I have been encouraged by them. It showed me there was more good in my game than bad at the start of a season.”

On the golf course, 2020 was a year to forget for McIlroy.

It was the first time in his professional career that he did not even have a second place to show, his best being a tied third position at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. However, it has been a rewarding one personally with the birth of his daughter, Poppy, in August.

Asked what she brings into his life, McIlroy quipped: “Less sleep for sure!

“It’s hard to compartmentalise your professional and your personal life. Professionally, it wasn’t a terrible year really. I got to world No1 in February and dropped to No4 at the end of the year (No6 now).

“I wish I was in contention a few more times, but that’s why it is nice to take some time off at the end of the year and hit the re-set button now.

“It’s so different now that we have Poppy. She is the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning, and the last thing you check before going to bed. But she has taught me something very valuable.

“I used to do everything at my leisure. I would go and practice when I wanted and things like that. Now, it is regimented. I know I have this amount of time for practice and this amount of time for my gym. My time management is probably a lot better now and that can only help.”

With this being a Ryder Cup year, the tournament has attracted the cream of European Tour, including two-time Abu Dhabi champion Tommy Fleetwood and the reigning European No1 Lee Westwood.

Meanwhile, Tommy Fleetwood believes consistency is key as he bids to convert his fine form in Rolex Series events into more wins.

The Englishman kicks off the new year by returning to a place that holds extremely fond memories for him, having secured back to back titles at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2017 and 2018 before finishing in a tie for second there last year.

As well as being the 2021 Race to Dubai season opener, this week’s tournament is also the first Rolex Series event of the season.

Fleetwood has a phenomenal recent record in these premier events, producing top ten finishes in five of his last six Rolex Series starts.

The 30-year-old would like to see such performances lead to more victories, with the most recent of his five trips to the European Tour winner’s circle coming at the 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge hosted by Gary Player, but he knows the importance of consistency if he is going to achieve that.

He said: “A certain level of experience, I guess, plays a part in Rolex Series events, when you find yourself up there on a Sunday.

“I’ve just prepared and played well in some of the bigger events and I would like to convert some of them into wins, but at the same time they’re good performances and consistency is something that I pride myself on most of the time.

“If I can keep doing that and just nudge those results even further in the right direction, then great.”

Fleetwood knows that his previous successes in Abu Dhabi do not guarantee him another good week, insisting you can never be sure how the first tournament of the year will go. “I’ve been on a lovely run in this event,” added Fleetwood.

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