When the putter works, is there anyone better? Rory McIlroy is next to unbeatable. And the world number one – who returns to a favoured hunting ground for the Dubai Desert Classic, the final stop on the European Tour’s early-season “Desert Swing” – has discounted any suggestion of a problem with the short club in his hands.
Although he ranked first for hitting greens-in-regulation at the recent Abu Dhabi championship, where he finished runner-up to Gary Stal, McIlroy was ranked 51st in putting and resorted to getting his caddie JP Fitzgerald to read the lines. "No, there are no issues with the putter . . . I have done some work [since Abu Dhabi] and I am very happy where my game is," said McIlroy, the headline act in Dubai where he won in 2009 and has finished in the top 10 every year since that maiden tour win.
He added: “I have practiced, done some drills and the stuff that I usually do [in the run-up to tournaments]. I am starting my putts on the right line, which is half the battle done. I am very comfortable on the Emirates greens.”
Worked on putting
McIlroy, who missed out on the Qatar Masters and instead spent time practising in Dubai last week, working on his putting but also on his swing in getting the ball to move more right-to-left to suit the course at the Emirates, is aiming to use the golf course as some relief ahead of scheduled legal proceedings in the Commercial Court in Dublin next week.
The world number one’s legal action against his former management company, Horizon Sports Management, is set to commence next week, with McIlroy expected to take the stand for a number of days. Court proceedings allowing, his next tournament is not scheduled until the Honda Classic in Florida at the end of February.
McIlroy was in Abu Dhabi for an invitational tournament on Sunday before returning to Dubai, where he spearheads a six-strong Irish contingent in the Desert Classic. Graeme McDowell, the world number 19, is making his first appearance of the season. Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie, who is playing on a sponsor's invitation, Michael Hoey and Damien McGrane are also in the field.
The Dubai Desert Classic has five of the world's top 20 ranked players competing, with McIlroy (1) joined by Henrik Stenson (2), Sergio Garcia (6), Martin Kaymer (12) and McDowell (19).
McIlroy’s form in European Tour events since his victory in the British Open last July has been quite remarkable, even allowing for taking time-out and missing two big WGC events in China at the tail end of last season so that he could prepare for his legal actions. McIlroy’s run in European events has seen him finish first-first-first-second-second-second, taking in the British Open, Bridgestone Invitational, US PGA, Alfred Dunhill Links and DP World Tour Championship.
Stephen Gallacher, the defending champion, is seeking to claim an unprecedented treble in Dubai having successfully defended his title a year ago. The Scot – a teammate of McIlroy's in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles last September – warmed-up for this latest defence by also playing in the Abu Dhabi Invitational on Sunday.
Pádraig Harrington, who closed out his season's work with a win in the Indonesian Open on the Asian Tour last November, kickstarts 2015 by appearing in this week's Phoenix Open where Tiger Woods is also in the field. Woods hasn't played a tournament on the PGA Tour since withdrawing from the US PGA championship last August.
For Harrington, who failed to retain his card last season, the Phoenix Open – one of his favourite events stateside – marks a run of events that will take in next week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and the following week’s AT&T pro-am at Pebble Beach.
Woods’s return to action in Phoenix will be eagerly anticipated, although he has an unlikely rival in terms of media interest.
Robert Allenby, the Australian who claimed to have been kidnapped after leaving a wine bar in Hawaii a fortnight ago, missed the Humana tournament but is in the field in Arizona and expected to expand further on what exactly transpired.