Wednesday 12 December 2018

'Mentally I wasn't in a great place and that was because of where I was physically' - McIlroy back in top shape

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland takes part in a photocall for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland takes part in a photocall for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy feels a first win since September 2016 is "not far away" as he prepares to make his competitive comeback in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy has a remarkable record in Abu Dhabi with four second place finishes, two thirds and a fifth in his last eight starts, but missed last year's event with the rib injury which disrupted his entire season.

The four-time major winner called an early end to his winless campaign, just the second of his professional career, in October, but has been practising hard over the winter, despite revealing that he has an irregular heartbeat.

"I'd love to win again," McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday. "I don't think there is any better feeling than winning a golf tournament.

"I've practised and I've played, obviously not competitively in a proper tournament, but I've shot some really good scores over the last few weeks. That's different from being out here with a card in your hand but from everything I've seen in practice, there is no reason to think it is not that far away."

McIlroy is currently scheduled to play eight tournaments before attempting to complete the career grand slam with victory in the Masters, although he believes a win is not essential to his chances at Augusta National.

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"I don't need to win but I'd love to," added the 28-year-old, who has finished in the top 10 in the last four years at Augusta.

"It would be ideal if I was to win one of these next eight events, in fact not just one. It would be great for my confidence going into Augusta. I'd love to get back in the winner's circle as soon as possible.

"I was excited to be done [last season]. After three and a half months, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it [the break] physically and mentally. I've been out here for 10 years and it felt like a bit of a sabbatical.

Mentally I wasn't in a great place and that was because of where I was physically. I feel prepared now, I feel ready and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I'm at with my health. I've put all that behind me, which has been great."

McIlroy's last win in the Tour Championship saw him win the overall FedEx Cup title and came just days before the 2016 Ryder Cup, but he ran out of steam in a singles defeat to Patrick Reed at Hazeltine as Europe lost for the first time since 2008.

Seven members of that United States team, plus US PGA champion Justin Thomas, also recorded a comfortable win in the 2017 Presidents Cup and are favourites to claim a first Ryder Cup win on European soil for 25 years in Paris.

"The Americans are very strong and I think for the first time in a long time they have a real cohesion," McIlroy added. "There is a core group of young players that will be around for a long time.

"But if you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up; big wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens. It wasn't set up for the way the Europeans like to play. I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish.

"The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances but it's never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments and it will be no different in Paris.

"I think we'll have a great team and it definitely won't be as easy as they think it's going to be."

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