Rory McIlroy keen to take a leaf out of Tiger’s book with driver usage

McIlroy and Shane Lowry look to hit the ground running at DP World Tour opener

Both Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry get their seasons  underway at Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty Images

Both Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry get their seasons underway at Abu Dhabi. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty Images

 

Once upon a time, Rory McIlroy’s flight to Abu Dhabi - for his traditional start to the golfing year - involved writing down his goals for the months ahead on a sheet of paper.

Maybe he’s older and wiser nowadays; for the Northern Irishman’s latest trip to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links, there was no scribbling down such targets, rather a more clear-headed appraisal of looking after the controllables so that he can achieve what he wants.

“I used to sit down on the flight here and write down, like: I want to win five times, I want to win a Major; I want to win the Race to Dubai; I want to win the fedEx Cup; I want to do this or that and of course I want to do all those things. I’d love to win six times in a season. I’ve never done that before, I’ve won five.

“And all those things are great goals and they are things to work towards. But I think the biggest for guys that are at the level that we’re at is, I want to hit over 60 percent of my fairways. I want my proximity inside 150 yards to be a certain number. I want my strokes gained putting to be a certain number.

“I think having goals that are more objective and more that I’m in control of . . . .I can’t control if I win five or six times, there’s so many variables in there. But I can certainly control if I hit 60 percent of the fairways.

“I can control if my numbers, my stats, are better than they were the year before. So, it’s about trying to set yourself goals that you can control and that are objective and measurable.”

And, in order to do that, McIlroy is keen to take a page out of Tiger Woods’s playbook. As McIlroy explained:

“That goal of hitting more fairways, it (might mean) throttling back and hitting a 3-wood a little more often or hitting clubs that are maybe not as aggressive off tees and just putting yourself in the fairway, just being a little bit more measured and a controlled golfer.

“I’ll certainly pick and choose my spots where I can take advantage of the driver and hit it, but the best player of the last 30 years, Tiger, he picked and chose where he hit driver and he played a very, very controlled game. It didn’t work out too badly for him.

“I’m not saying that my game compares to his in any way, but there are certain aspects of what he did so well in the past that I would obviously love to put into my game.”

McIlroy hasn’t played competitively since the Hero World Challenge hosted by Woods in the first week of December but, apart from putting his clubs away over the Christmas period, he has been out playing in events with his dad Gerry at Seminole and also at The Grove in Florida - where he is a member - so that there is little sign of any rust as he seeks to get his hands on the Abu Dhabi title, a tournament that has proved elusive through the years.

In 11 previous appearances, McIlroy has finished runner-up on four occasions and third on a further four times. For this year’s event, the move to a new course - switching from the Abu Dhabi Club to the Yas Links - could provide the answer.

“I just want to pick up where I left off at the end of last year. I felt like I turned a corner after the Ryder Cup and played some good golf in that stretch. I just want to try to keep doing what I’m doing with that and feel like I’ve got a couple of nice thoughts with the swing, try to get the scoring clubs as I can and go from there,” said McIlroy.

Shane Lowry, too, is aiming to hit the ground running on his first outing of 2022 after spending the past couple of weeks practising on his game in Florida.

“Every year you start, you want it to be your best year. I’m going have to do some pretty good things to make this my best year, and I’m excited at the challenge ahead . . . . . it’s hard to believe, you know, if you count 2009, which I was on tour for most of, this is my 14th season on tour, which is bananas, really. Time flies.

“It’s exciting and I really feel like I’m coming to an age now where I’m hopefully coming to the prime of my career, and I can do some really good things in this game,” said Lowry.

Philip Reid’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Lowdown

Purse: €7.05 million (€1.1m to the winner)

Where: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

The course: Yas Links, 7,425 yards, par 72: A new venue for the Rolex Series tournament. Designed by Kyle Phillips, the course is a contrived links with sand hills and marram grasses lining the fairways and a number of greens located close to the seashore. The finishing hole is a par-5 of 646 yards.

The field: The rebranded European Tour – nowadays known as the DP World Tour – kicks off the year with a megabucks Rolex Series event which has attracted an exceptionally strong field, headed by world number two Collin Morikawa along with world number seven Viktor Hovland and number eight Rory McIlroy. Tyrrell Hatton is the defending champion.

Irish in the field: Four of them – McIlroy is joined by Shane Lowry, Pádraig Harrington and Jonathan Caldwell.

Quote-Unquote: “I’m not a big fan of the new year resolutions or set big goals . . . . I just try to control what I can do every day, incorporate little things into every day or every week that will eventually get me to where I want to be” – Viktor Hovland, a winner of two of his last three tournaments (the Mayakoba Classic and the Hero World Challenge at the tail-end of 2021).

Betting: No surprise that the tournament’s big guns head the market with McIlroy and Morikawa installed as joint favourites (13-2) and Hovland a 10-1 shot . . . the Hojgaard twins – Nicolai at 45-1 and Rasmus at 50-1 – appear better value in the market while a long-shot worth a look is the 150-1 about Daniel Gavins who has impressed since graduating off the Challenge Tour.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports from 3.30am on Thursday morning.

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