I’m feeling a bit rusty says Rory as he shoots a disappointing 75 in Abu Dhabi
THE last time Rory McIlroy shot 75 he went on to win his second major title by eight strokes.
But it will be some feat if the world number one, playing competitively with his new Nike clubs for the first time, does the same at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this weekend - if he is still around for the final two rounds, that is.
After two double bogeys on the opening day - one the result of a wild tee shot at a par three and the other a drive that struck a tree and went out of bounds - McIlroy is in a battle to survive the halfway cut.
The 23-year-old is only just inside the top 100 in the 126-strong field and eight adrift of leaders Justin Rose and Jamie Donaldson.
He has also suffered another "loss" in head-to-head combat with Tiger Woods, even with the 14-major champion hitting one of the worst shots of his professional career in his level-par 72.
Woods hit a drive barely 120 yards at the 405-yard first - his 10th hole - and had to take his second shot from short of the fairway.
There was no way McIlroy, who has outscored the American only three times in 12 clashes, was going to blame his unhappy start to 2013 on his mega-million pound equipment change, however.
"I feel like I was a little bit rusty, not playing any competitive golf for eight weeks," he said. His last tournament was in Dubai in November, when he birdied the last five holes to win the DP World Tour Championship.
"I didn't drive the ball particularly well, which you sort of need to round here because the rough is very thick.
"I actually hit my irons pretty well, but just didn't hole any putts. I'll work on that."
Asked if it was to be expected that it would take time to get used to the club switch, he replied: "Of course it does, but I'm really happy with the way the ball is in the wind - it was really stable - and the wedge play.
"I wasn't very comfortable off the tee, but just because I didn't feel like I was swinging it that well.
"I've been working leading up to Christmas and then obviously into the New Year, but it's a little bit of an experimental period and I have four weeks off after this tournament just to work on it."
Not that he has given up on the week.
"I feel like if I can just get comfortable and swing it a little better I can still play some good rounds here.
"I'm disappointed. I felt like I could have played better and shot a better score.
"I'm not overly concerned how I played. It wasn't quite what I wanted, but I felt there were a few good signs.
"I guess when you're going out with new stuff you're always going to be a little anxious."
Woods was happy enough to turn in a two-under 34, but then came his shocker off the next tee and after a bogey there he took six down the long second and later followed a birdie at the 597-yard eighth with a three-putt bogey.
On what happened at the 10th he commented: "My game plan was three-iron or five-wood and then I changed. I was not committed to the shot - I should have backed off.
"I had a strategy, I didn't keep to it and paid the price.
"But it's tough out there. Every hole is crosswind and it was a day to survive - you've really got to control your ball.
"The rough's up and it's imperative to keep the ball in the fairway."
Woods was asked after his round about an article in the United States - in the National Enquirer - that he was trying to get back with ex-wife Elin Nordegren and had even proposed to her over Christmas.
His answer? "I'm not going to comment on my private life," he said.
At least McIlroy's girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki put in a much more satisfactory day's work, reaching the third round of the Australian Open tennis with a 6-1 6-4 win over Croatian Donna Vekic in Melbourne while he was on the course battling.