Rory McIlroy: Change of golf course might be just what I need to win Abu Dhabi title

Northern Irishman hopes switch to Yas Links helps his bid to become champion in capital for first time

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When it was announced the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship would be moving across the E11 to Yas Links from its traditional home on the National Course back in October, it did not take long for Eddie Pepperell to see the humour in it.

The Englishman quipped on Twitter that he had just seen Martin Kaymer crying about the news. After all, the German was the king of Abu Dhabi Golf Club, right?

There was a time when that was unquestionable. Kaymer seemed more or less invincible in the capital by the time he had won the Falcon Trophy three times in four years, up until 2011.

In recent times, it has felt like Tommy Fleetwood has assumed that mantle, especially having won there in successive seasons in 2017 and 2018.

Yet it is also possible to argue the most consistent force in the capital has been a player who has — bizarrely, enough — never actually had his name inscribed on the trophy.

Rory McIlroy has had nine top five finishes in his past 10 trips to Abu Dhabi. In that time, he has been runner up four times, and finished third three times, just as he did last year.

If anyone might feel put out by having to get used to a new set up this time around, perhaps it should be him.

The Northern Irishman sees it another way, though. A change of scenery might in fact bring that little change of luck needed to get over the winning line, he suggests.

“I played really well at the other golf course for a long time. Maybe this is what's needed to end up winning this thing at the end: a change of golf course,” McIlroy said.

“It's always been a great place to start the year for me. I've always played pretty well and hopefully I can continue that trend this week.”

The world No 8 will be joined in the showpiece match of Thursday’s opening round by Lee Westwood and Tyrrell Hatton, the defending champion. They will go off from the 10th tee at 7.30am.

As his record in Abu Dhabi attests, McIlroy is general given to fast starts at the beginning of the year.

Given his disposition ahead of the start in Abu Dhabi, he is refreshed and revived ahead of the new campaign.

McIlroy felt he turned a corner after the disappointment of the Ryder Cup in September. He won on the PGA Tour the following month, and might have done similar in Dubai in November had the closing holes worked out differently.

Although his last trip to the UAE ended in him tearing his shirt in frustration at that finish at Jumeirah Golf Estates, he appears in far cheerier mood now. He is looking ahead with optimism.

“I used to sit down on the flight here and write down, like: I want to win five times, I want to win a major; I want to win The Race to Dubai; I want to win the FedExCup; I want to do this or that,” he said.

“Of course I want to do all those things. I'd love to win six times in a season. I've never done that before. I've won five.

“All those things are great goals and they are things to try to work towards. But I think the biggest thing for guys at the level that we're at is, I want to hit over 60 per cent of my fairways.

“I want my proximity inside 150 yards to be a certain number. I want my strokes gained putting to be a certain number.

“I think [it is about] having goals that are more objective and more that I'm in control of. I can't control if I win five or six times a year. There's so many other variables in there.”

Updated: January 19, 2022, 3:13 PM