Dubai ‘seems to bring out my best’: Rory McIlroy on a hat-trick at Desert Classic
The two-time champion, who last year eased to a three-stroke victory, was back at Emirates Golf Club on Wednesday fine-tuning his game before his latest title defence, which begins Thursday alongside undoubted talent in Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen.
McIlroy’s affinity for the tournament, the final stop on the European Tour’s three-legged Desert Swing, extends back beyond his first professional victory there in 2009. The two previous years, he competed courtesy of an invite and rewarded the organisers’ faith by making the cut on debut – his first in a professional tournament.
So joining Ernie Els as the only other man to capture three Coffee Pot trophies now forms McIlroy’s sole focus at the Majlis. Anything else, he says, would be a bit of a letdown.
“Yeah, it would be, of course,” he said. “Leaving any tournament without a win is disappointing, but you try to put a positive spin on it. I think golfers, that’s what we usually do. We are disappointed for a bit and then when we realise we try to put positive spins on it, and the nice thing is there’s always a next week in golf.
“But yeah, if I was leaving here on Sunday night and didn’t win, I’d be disappointed.”
McIlroy’s game seems set to stave off any frustration. The Northern Irishman, a four-time major champion, finished third on his 2016 debut at last month’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, while his last trip to Dubai concluded with victory in the DP World Tour Championship, the circuit’s season finale, and thus a third Race to Dubai crown in four years.
Add that to his obvious connection with the Desert Classic, and factor in his climb this week one spot in the rankings to world No 2, and McIlroy goes into the event as the obvious favourite. It does not faze him at all.
“It’s always nice to be back in Dubai,” he said. “The last couple of times I’ve played here I’ve done pretty well, so I’m going for three in a row in Dubai with winning here last year, and then with the DP World just at the end of last season.
“So it seems to bring out my best golf. And I’ve got great memories from the Emirates, winning my first tournament, making my first cut as a pro. So it’s always great to be back. I think this is my 10th year since I started coming here and playing in the tournament – twice as an amateur. So a lot of great memories and I get a lot of support here, so I’m obviously looking forward to the week.”
McIlroy played down the impact of a tweaked Majlis, with the fairways firmer and faster than previous years. Some bunkers have been made deeper, too, while run-off areas have been added around certain greens. Again, McIlroy plans to simply take it in his stride.
“To be honest, it’s the sort of golf course that I feel so comfortable on,” he said. “It’s not like the changes are so huge that it’s going to make much of a difference.”
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Published: February 3, 2016 04:00 AM