Rory McIlroy: “I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good”
McIlroy will tee it up in Abu Dhabi for the first time since October
Rory McIlroy plays a shot on the ninth hole during practice rounds for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy during a practice round ahead of Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
If the clear mitigating circumstance of injury provides context, it is still worthy of note that 16 months have passed since Rory McIlroy last won a tournament.
Having pressed the reset button on his career the only danger attached to the 28-year-old’s return to competitive action after a lay-off since early October may resonate in a rush to return to the podium. A fascinating build-up to the Masters - which will include an unprecedented eight tournament appearances - begins from Thursday in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
McIlroy missed this event in 2017because of the rib problem that disrupted the rest of his year.
“I’d love to win again,” McIlroy said on Tuesday. “I don’t think there is any better feeling than winning a golf tournament.
“I’ve practised and I’ve played, obviously not competitively in a proper tournament but I’ve shot some really good scores over the last few weeks. That’s different from being out here with a card in your hand but from everything I’ve seen in practice, there is no reason to think it is not that far away.”
McIlroy didn’t quite agree with the notion a win would be essential before he arrives at Augusta National. “I don’t need to win but I’d love to,” he added. “It would be ideal if I was to win one of these next eight events, in fact not just one. It would be great for my confidence going into Augusta. I’d love to get back in the winner’s circle as soon as possible.”
A noticeably lean McIlroy - he spoke of taking food matters “more seriously” after hiring a dietician - launched ferocious drives on the Abu Dhabi range on Tuesday in the style common before his injury.
“I was excited to be done,” said the 28-year-old of last season’s end. “After three and a half months, I’m very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it (a break) physically and mentally. I’ve been out here for 10 years and it felt like a bit of a sabbatical.
“Mentally I wasn’t in a great place and that was because of where I was physically. I feel prepared now, I feel ready and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”
The Ryder Cup will inevitably feature on McIlroy’s list of 2018 goals, with Europe aiming to reclaim the trophy in France. The four-time major champion is aware of a widely held sense that the current US team, which prevailed comfortably at Hazeltine in 2016, should be the strong favourites to do likewise again. And still, he delivered a pointed warning.
“The Americans are very strong and I think for the first time in a long time they have a real cohesion,” McIlroy said. “There is a core group of young players that will be around for a long time.
“But if you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up; big wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens. It wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play. I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.
“So I’m confident. 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 obviously been buoyant about their chances but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
But first, to the individual matters which will provide a compelling opening to this golfing year. - Guardian Service