My last win feels a long time ago – Rory McIlroy aiming to start year on a high
McIlroy has a remarkable record in Abu Dhabi with four second-place finishes, three thirds and a fifth in his last nine starts, but he has not played one of the European Tour’s biggest events in the last two seasons.
The four-time major winner endured the third winless season of his professional career in 2020 and last tasted victory in the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, but looks likely to be heavily backed with BetMGM Indiana and the likes this year.
“China back in November 2019 does feel like a long time ago,” McIlroy said. “The world was a much different place back then than it is now.
“I had a great start last year. Didn’t really play that great coming back out of lockdown, but then felt like I was starting to play a lot better as the season came to an end. Saw some promising signs in LA and Vegas and had a decent Masters. Played really well the last three rounds there.
“So yeah, I’m trying not to be impatient. I try to stay as patient as possible, but what I will say is that last win does feel like quite a long time ago at this point.
“(A win) would be a great way to start the year. I saw something the other day and, of the 13 times I’ve played a first tournament of a season in my pro career, I’ve had 11 top fives.
“The fact that there is no win in there is a little surprising I guess. I come out at the start of the year and I don’t think you’re as fully sharp as you would want to be, but at least the optimism is there and the enthusiasm is there.
“You don’t have any scar tissue built up from previous tournaments that year. I feel like every year is a fresh start and I like that feeling. I have played well the first tournament back and hopefully I can do the same again this week.”
Ever since winning the Open Championship in 2014 to complete the third leg of the career grand slam, McIlroy’s biggest goal for the year has been to win the Masters to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in having won all four major titles.
But, while that goes without saying, the 31-year-old revealed that his written goals for 2021 are more detail-oriented.
“There was a couple of stats that stood out to me last year that I needed to be a little bit better at,” McIlroy added.
“One of the things was approach play out of the rough, which is sort of random, but I hit 60 per cent of fairways, so that means 40 per cent of the time I’m hitting out of the rough, which is quite a lot, and my performance out of the rough last year was way down than what it was the previous year.
“My approaches off the fairway were actually pretty similar, and then there was a couple different like putting; between four and eight feet wasn’t quite as good as it was the previous year, and a couple little things like that. Obviously if I get those better, my game will become better.”
McIlroy’s former Ryder Cup team-mate Thorbjorn Olesen has withdrawn from the event after testing positive for the coronavirus before travelling to Abu Dhabi. The Dane has been replaced in the field by Scotland’s Calum Hill.
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