Rory goes on safari to support Els in South Africa
Rory McIlroy steps back into European Tour action in the BMW SA Open at Glendower GC in South Africa this week.
McIlroy fulfills his obligation to Ernie Els in a quid pro quo for the Big Easy's appearance in the 2015 Irish Open which was the first under the Dubai Duty Free and Rory Foundation banner.
Everyone's a winner before a ball is struck on Thursday. McIlroy's presence adds lustre to the tournament and Els' charitable fund-raising for 'Els for Autism' will also get a boost. Speaking at the tournament launch before Christmas, Els said: "Rory was very serious about coming to South Africa when we talked about it at the Irish Open and I'm glad that he made the commitment so soon.
"His presence will help the growth of the SA Open which has been doing so well over the last few years."
McIlroy's return to the fairways in South Africa will give fans a chance to assess the early form of the top four in the world after he finished 2016 in second spot on the rankings list.
Jason Day, still in No 1 spot since regaining it from Jordan Spieth after the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship last March, was out for three months due to back problems, and was reasonably happy after the SBS Tournament of Champions in Maui.
Day finished in a tie for 12th on 13-under par - eight adrift of tournament winner Justin Thomas. The Australian will now step back from active duty until the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines later this month.
"I feel good about how the back performed. Obviously taking three months off, having to rehab the back was obviously a long time to take off.
"To be able to walk around this golf course and play and hit off the awkward lies that we get, it didn't have an effect on me, which is great. For the most part, I think it was just a good, solid week," said Day.
Dustin Johnson also played in Maui. He was tied sixth and will join McIlroy in Abu Dhabi (January 19-22). Spieth, currently ranked fourth, shot 65 in the final round to elevate himself into tied-3rd alongside Ryan Moore on 16-under.
Spieth will play in the Sony Open in Honolulu this week and feels confident that he can push on and improve on his performance in Maui because he believes the course suits his game.
"You have to kind of strike it around both ways and play in the wind, and we feel like that kind of plays to our strength, kind of trickier reads on the greens. You can make putts from mid-range and off a bunch of ridges," he said.
Irish Olympian Seamus Power will also play the Sony Open.
Web.Com Tour graduate Power has so far played five events on the main Tour, making four cuts and earning $98,253.