ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It felt like Groundhog Day listening to Rory McIlroy on the eve of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Everything is perfect in his world, and he can’t wait for the season ahead. He said virtually the same thing last year.
We believed him then, too. Should we trust him this year? Yes.
As we know, 2013 was a write-off for the Northern Irishman. He missed the cut here with his new Nike sticks; he had off-course legal battles with management companies and sponsors; he had to battle rumors about his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki. The toll it took on McIlroy was obvious. His 2013 season didn’t really start until it was almost over. Victory in the Australian Open helped salvage a year in which he claimed at the Open Championship that he was “brain dead.”
There’s reason to believe McIlroy this year. He says he has more of a solid base on which to build than he did 12 months ago.
“Reflecting back on last year, there was a lot of, I guess you could say, instability or whatever,” said McIlroy, 24, who is No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “I feel like I’m just starting this year on such a different sort of platform.”
McIlroy squashed rumors of a frayed relationship with Wozniacki, the Danish tennis player, by getting engaged to her on New Year’s Eve. That’s part of the reason why he feels good heading into 2014.
“It will only help to have that stability and know that everything in that regard in my life is set,” he said.
After finishing 25th in the Masters and 41st in the U.S. Open, the Open Championship marked the low point in McIlroy’s 2013 campaign. He bombed out of Muirfield after scores of 79 and 75.
“The biggest frustration was probably at the Open Championship,” he said. “I had never missed a cut at The Open. Anything I tried to do to the golf ball I couldn’t do. I was putting into bunker. I was doing all sorts of stupid stuff.”
He salvaged some major pride in the PGA Championship with a T-8 finish. He was average in the FedEx Cup and then took a month off. That’s when something finally clicked.
“Something just sort of started to feel a bit better and started to click,” he said, “and then I just kept it going from there.”
Seems it’s still going, if we are to believe him this time around. And we should.
“There was just loads of stuff going on around me (last year), and that didn’t let me focus 100 percent on what I needed to do, which was to try to play the best that I could,” McIlroy said. “This year is polar opposite. Everything seems to have just fallen into place nicely, and I can just go out there and focus on my golf and try to play it as well as I can.”
McIlroy said as much last year and then opened with a couple of 75s to miss the cut after two straight seconds and a third in his previous three trips to the Emirates. So his first two rounds this year should let us know if we are right to have faith in him.