Rory McIlroy looks fit, shows fight in Abu Dhabi return

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 21: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot from a bunker on the 13th hole during the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 21, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images) Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy looks fit, shows fight in Abu Dhabi return

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Rory McIlroy looks fit, shows fight in Abu Dhabi return

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Rory McIlroy is back.

Did we ever really think he’d gone away?

Mark down McIlroy’s first event since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October as a success. While he didn’t win the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, he proved two things: His game is as good as ever and, more importantly, he’s back to full fitness.

The former World No. 1 finished T-3. Rounds of 69, 66, 65 and 70 gave him an 18-under 270 to tie with Matthew Fitzpatrick, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood and two behind Ross Fisher.

McIlroy might have pushed Fleetwood harder had he putted better. That was the only rusty part of his game.

“I didn’t really know what my expectations were coming into this week,” McIlroy said. “I just wanted to get back on the golf course and play again. I’ve done that, and I’ve played pretty well. Felt like I did everything I wanted to do.

“I know it’s only three months, but things change and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was probably the most pleasing thing.”

McIlroy missed large parts of last season after suffering a rib injury during January’s BMW SA Open, in which he finished second. He took three months off to rest the condition. There was no sign of a flare up on his return to competitive action.

“It’s just something I’m going to have to keep on top of,” McIlroy said of the rib problem. “It’s something that I’m wary of now. I know that there’s certain vulnerabilities in my body like there is with everyone. I used to have to look after my lower back in the early days and now that’s fine. Just going to have to look after this for a while, but it’s totally fine. I’m 100 percent.

“My body held up really well.”

Fitter than ever

The Northern Irishman looks fitter than at any time in his career, thanks to increased gym time.

“I’ve actually put on about 2 kilos since October,” he revealed. “Obviously that’s 2 good kilos. I’ve lost a bit of fat and I’ve put on a bit of muscle.

“I’ve been in the gym training hard and getting myself fit and healthy for this year. I’m taking the diet a little more seriously and started working with a dietician.”

McIlroy revealed shortly before arriving in Abu Dhabi that he’d been diagnosed with a heart murmur.

“Your heartbeat has two big spikes, and then a tiny little spike at the end, and that little spike at the end was the other way, inverted,” he explained.

“Basically, it’s nothing. Once they ramped my heart rate up to 140, 150 beats per minute, that started to go the right way again, so it was totally fine.”

Golf fans could be in for a real treat this season. McIlroy has spent part of his three-month sabbatical working on getting more variety into his game. He showed that at the end of the third round in Abu Dhabi when he finessed a 2-iron 230 yards left to right on the wind to the par-5 18th green en route to a birdie.

“It’s something I’ve been working on, trying to not be so one-dimensional,” McIlroy said. “In the offseason I worked quite a bit on TrackMan trying to be able to hit different clubs different distances. Last year I felt like I had a lot of in-between clubs a lot of times, but it was more just me not being comfortable taking something off a club or trying to hit one a little bit harder. I feel like I’ve played around with it a little bit, and the results are showing.”

European No. 1 Fleetwood has no doubt McIlroy hasn’t suffered from his brief hiatus from the game.

“He looked great,” said Fleetwood, who played the first two rounds with McIlroy. “He swung it great. He hit it really nicely. Had control of his ball. Whenever you’ve had a long period off, you always sort of plan for a bit of rust. Not necessarily how you hit it, but just how you go about playing golf.

“Playing golf is a whole different skill in itself. I thought he looked great. I think he’ll win more than once this year, easily.” Gwk

 

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