Rory McIlroy: Legal battle has had an effect on the course
TWELVE months ago Rory McIlroy arrived in Dubai on the crest of a wave, the world number one having won his second major title by eight shots and being just days away from a fifth victory of the season that secured the money list titles on both sides of the Atlantic.
One year on he is back at Jumeirah Golf Estates as the world number six, without a win all season and an also-ran in the Race to Dubai coming to terms with his own "annus horribilis".
"It's been an interesting year," McIlroy said with considerable understatement ahead of the DP World Tour Championship, an event he won last year with five birdies in the last five holes.
"Obviously a lot of stuff has gone on, both on and off the course. Every year that I've come here, apart from 2010, I've been in the mix to win the Race to Dubai. It's a little bit different coming in this week and not having much to play for in terms of that (he is 46th), but I still want to try and finish the season off really strongly.
"I feel like this course really suits my game. I know it would be a great way to cap off the European season with a win."
The major distraction off the course for McIlroy is an ongoing legal battle with his former management company, a situation which he admits has had an effect on the course.
The 24-year-old has also struggled to get the best out of his new Nike equipment after signing a multi-million-euro endorsement deal in January, while he walked off the course during the second round of his defence of the Honda Classic.
He initially told reporters he was in a "bad place mentally" before a statement was issued by his then-management company citing pain from a wisdom tooth as the reason for his withdrawal.
McIlroy did finish second in the Texas Open the week before the Masters, but was 25th there and 41st at the US Open, where he broke a club in frustration.
He also missed the cut in the Open at Muirfield and labelled his own play "brain dead", while even a share of eighth place in the defence of his US PGA title was not enough to help him qualify for the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour, which is limited to the top 30 players in the money list.
"There's definitely been a few things that have impacted (on my performance on the course)," McIlroy added. "I've had a few different things to think about and different things that occupy your head that really shouldn't.
"It's something that will be sorted out hopefully sooner rather than later. That's the way it is and comes with the territory I guess.
"I've got people to handle that sort of stuff for me and I only see a fraction of it, the stuff that I really want to see. But again it's something that shouldn't be in my mind. It's something that I don't really think any athlete or anyone should ever go through.
"I've seen more lawyers this year than I care to see in my entire life. It's not something I ever want to go through again and I'm making sure that I won't ever go through it again."
That is a reference to the fact that McIlroy has set up his own management firm since his disputed split from Horizon, while the Ulsterman is also heeding the advice of stablemate Tiger Woods about managing his time.
"He said you have to remember what got you here in the first place and I think you guys (the media) know that with Tiger, it's 'No' 99 per cent of the time," McIlroy added.
"I'd say I'm a little more forgiving with my time than that, but there still needs to be a point where you have to say no and look after yourself."
McIlroy was in danger of missing out on this week's event - limited to the top 60 on the Race to Dubai - until finishing sixth in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, only a third top-10 finish on the European Tour this season.
But the Ryder Cup star feels he is on the right track and enjoys proving the doubters wrong after each dip in form.
"I guess I learnt last year how to deal with the hype and this year I've learned to deal with criticism," he added. "Every year for me is still a new experience.
"I feel I've always thrived on adversity. I think back to the times when I had the collapse at the Masters [leading by four shots before a final round of 80 in 2011] and I came back and won the US Open because I wanted to prove to myself and other people that wasn't who I am and that's not the way I play under pressure.
"Last year at the US PGA was the same sort of thing. I went through a little lull of three or four months and people started to question things and I like proving people wrong. It's something that I have to keep doing every year and hopefully I do that again this year as well."