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.”
Now a Rolex Series event on the European Tour, the $8 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship gets underway on Thursday, with world No3 Justin Thomas of the USA the highest ranked player.
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.