Rory: I'm in a much better place after 2013 instability
TWELVE months ago in Abu Dhabi, Rory McIlroy seemed to rule the world of golf.
There was less pomp and ceremony yesterday when he made his 2014 bow in the emirate, but the 24-year-old appeared to be in command of something far more important.
The spectacular pyrotechnics with which Nike last year launched their $20m-a-year contract with McIlroy and the authoritative way in which he threw his weight as world No 1 behind Paul McGinley's bid for Ryder Cup captaincy would not be reflected in his performance where it really counted, on the course.
The fanfare which greeted the Down native at Abu Dhabi Golf Club yesterday was less strident; indeed, one has to wonder what benefit accrues to the HSBC Championship by having McIlroy and Phil Mickelson awkwardly twirling golf clubs in a cringe-inducing, on-stage appearance with traditional minstrels and dancing girls.
Yet McIlroy has emerged "smarter" from the upheaval, disharmony, frustration and near-despair which darkened much of his 2013; he is better prepared for the on-course challenges ahead and, following his recent engagement to Caroline Wozniacki, enjoying the stability that brings in his private life.
Though his case against Horizon and the Dublin firm's counter-suit are bound for the Commercial Court next October, he's satisfied by the establishment of 'Rory McIlroy Inc', whose chief executive Donal Casey was at yesterday's media briefing with McIlroy's tour manager Sean O'Flaherty.
"Everything feels like it has fallen into place and I can just focus on my golf," said McIlroy.
"I feel like I'm in a much better place to start off the year.
"Reflecting on last year, I guess you could say there was a lot of instability and I'm just starting this year on such a different platform.
"Everything feels like it just fell into place and I can focus on my golf. I know that everything else away from that is in a really good place and I'm happy I can go and try to play the golf that I know I can."
Admitting that off-course confrontation intruded on his performance in 2013, McIlroy went on: "Of course it did. 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."
As for his golf, McIlroy insisted: "I feel I'm much better prepared heading into the first event of the season than I was last year.
"I did some really good work on my swing at the end of last year and in the couple of weeks I've had (in the Gulf with coach Michael Bannon) leading into this tournament."
Drawing on momentum built by his win over Adam Scott at November's Australian Open in Sydney, McIlroy said: "I'm feeling good about my game, where I am mentally and I feel good with everything that's going on off the course."
Looking back 12 months, he admitted: "There was just loads of stuff going on around me that didn't let me focus 100pc on what I needed to do, which was try to play the best I could. This year is the polar opposite."