When Rory McIlroy first competed in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic he was so excited he helped carry an official photographer's long lens and proceeded to walk 18 holes inside the ropes just to get a closer look at Tiger Woods.
That was five years ago when the then 15-year-old was afforded a sponsor's invitation to compete in the UAE. Woods went on to capture the first of his two Dubai victories with McIlroy missing the halfway cut with a pair of 72s.
But when McIlroy finished as leading amateur in 2007, there was the boyish disappointment of not sharing the prize-giving stage with Woods who finished third, and was not a part of the winner's ceremony.
Champion here in 2009, McIlroy is already a 'veteran' of three full seasons as a professional. So much so, in fact that those 'kid in the candy store' ways of McIlroy are now very much boyhood memories.
"It was a pretty exciting week for me when I first played here in Dubai, and I remember the buzz I got getting inside the ropes that week, and seeing Tiger up close for a first time," said McIlroy.
"But whether or not it's because I am a professional golfer now and also maybe because I've spent a bit of time with him, nowadays it's all about becoming a more mature and experienced golfer.
"Besides since I've been on the Tour, I've never seen him dominate, and I have never played in tournaments that he also played where he dominated.
"So I never felt that aura, so much so that when I speak to him, he's just Tiger. It's not that there's any special aura about him. He's just one of the guys."
McIlroy finds himself on the opposite side of the opening two-round draw as Woods, with the Ulsterman early-late and Woods late-early.
The last time McIlroy was in the UAE he finished eight shots behind Martin Kaymer, who moved to No 2 in the world on the back of his eight-stroke Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship success. The bad news for McIlroy is that Kaymer is again in the field, as well as the world No 1, Lee Westwood.
In his two weeks off since Abu Dhabi, McIlroy has been working on his strategy to find his way back to Sunday's prize-giving ceremony.
"Basically, I am just thinking more about playing away from the pins and knowing when it's a good time to be aggressive and when it's a good time to go for the middle of the green."
McIlroy heads a field of six Irish competitors, including Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke, who will be playing partners for the opening two days. Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin has ended a two-week break and had a new putter in the bag to try and achieve his break- through Race to Dubai win.
McIlroy welcomed a change in the 2012 Ryder Cup qualifying process and, indeed, suggested Europe's best side would come from picking the top 12 players rather than returning to the 10 plus two formula.
Jose Maria Olazabal sought a change from the three 'wild-card' picks that Colin Montgomerie sought, and instead will now just have two. Also, the European Qualifying Points table will now take priority over the World Points table, thus giving more emphasis and reward to those competing more in Europe.
"Having two picks is going to make it easier for a captain but then if I was me, I'd just have 12 automatic selections," said McIlroy. "If you are in the top 12 on the qualifying table, you deserve to make the team."
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