McIlroy keen to start fresh and banish '13 blues
Phil Mickelson believes Rory McIlroy will have a great 2014 season, but might have something to say about the Northern Irishman's lofty goals.
McIlroy said recently he wanted to win two majors this year to make up for the disappointment of 2013, when he failed to add to his US Open victory in 2011 and US PGA triumph in 2012.
The 24-year-old also fell from world number one to sixth in the rankings – he is currently seventh after being overtaken by Zach Johnson – and took until December to register his first victory, edging out Masters champion Adam Scott in a thrilling finish to the Australian Open.
With Mickelson targeting the US Open to complete a career grand slam and McIlroy wanting two major titles, that may not leave much to play for, but Mickelson joked: "Well, want and get are two different things."
The Open champion added: "I think he's going to have a great year, I really do. I think that he's too talented to have another year like last year. You saw glimpses of his game being sharp with his win in Australia in December and I think he's going to have a great year."
McIlroy was certainly in a buoyant mood as he followed Mickelson into the media centre ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, something he admitted was "a polar opposite" to this time last year.
The 24-year-old's controversial multi-million pound switch to Nike was greeted with much pomp and circumstance, only for the season to fall flat with poor performances and two legal disputes.
One of those has been settled and McIlroy's recent engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, after persistent rumours in 2013 that they had split, meant the two-time major winner was in high spirits.
"It was a distraction," McIlroy said of his off-course issues.
"You're thinking of other things when you really shouldn't have to. But it's the last year I'm ever going to have to go through something like that.
"I've learned from it and I'm smarter because of it. It's great that I've gone through it at this stage in my career and not 15 years down the line.
Twelve months ago, Rory McIlroy's year kicked off in a blaze of fireworks to mark his multi-million pound switch to Nike, only to fizzle out amid poor form and courtroom confrontations.
A year on, the former world No 1 believes things could not be more different as he begins his 2014 campaign buoyed by renewed confidence in his game and recent engagement to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
"I feel like I'm much better prepared heading into the first event of the season than I was last year," McIlroy said ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which gets under way tomorrow.
McIlroy's debut with his new clubs got off to a bad start here last year, consecutive rounds of 75 leading to a missed cut which was then followed by a first-round defeat to Shane Lowry in the Accenture World Match Play.
He then walked off the course during the second round of his defence of the Honda Classic and initially told reporters he was in a "bad place mentally", before a statement issued by his then-management company blamed pain from a wisdom tooth for his withdrawal.
He also missed the cut in the British Open at Muirfield and labelled his own play "brain dead", although that experience did at least prove somewhat of a turning point in the season.
"The biggest frustration was probably at the Open. I had never missed the cut before and anything I was trying to do to the golf ball I couldn't. I was putting into bunkers, I was doing all sorts of stupid stuff.
"I was low on confidence and that's something I don't usually struggle with. I played with Phil (Mickelson, the eventual winner) the first two days and it completely demoralised me because he played so well."
A share of eighth place in the defence of his US PGA title indicated the two-time major winner was on the right track.
"Something started to click and I just kept it going from there," the 24-year-old added.
"Once you feel like something's there and you start to see some decent results, your confidence starts to build."
The Ryder Cup star believes he has also finally settled on the right equipment as he looks to reproduce the form which saw him top the money list on both sides of the Atlantic in 2012.