Rory McIlroy is delighted to return to a happy hunting ground with some early-season momentum as he prepares to tee it up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The Northern Irishman claimed his first European Tour victory here at Emirates Golf Club in 2009 and has not finished outside the top ten in six visits since, with a second win coming in 2015.
He missed the event last season due to a rib injury that plagued his entire 2017 campaign and after a prolonged winter break since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, returned to action with a tie for third at last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA.
Now pain-free and with that impressive record behind him in Dubai, the 28 year old is raring to go and attempt to join Ernie Els as a three-time winner of this event.
McIlroy has been practising relentlessly since the New Year as he looks to put his injury behind him and reclaim his place in the top ten of the Official World Golf Ranking. The four-time Major champion revealed Monday was his first day off in just over two weeks and he believes he is in a good place to kick on after exceeding expectations in Abu Dhabi.
He will, of course, be faced with some serious competition over the coming days, with another truly world-class field assembled for the 29th edition of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, led by his playing partners for the first two rounds – defending champion and current Masters champion Sergio Garcia and former winner Henrik Stenson.
Garcia got his 2018 off to the perfect start by winning the Singapore Open last week; while Stenson finished his week in Abu Dhabi in sparkling form – carding a brilliant seven under 65 in the toughest conditions of the week on Sunday to finish in eighth position.
A total of ten Major champions and 17 of the World’s top 60 will tee it up in Dubai, including many of Europe’s most exciting young players such as the Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Thomas Pieters.
Rory McIlroy: “I’m obviously really happy with how everything went last week. If someone had said to me at the start of the week you’d shoot 18 under par your first week back on, I thought, quite a difficult golf course, I would have thought 18-under par would have a great chance to win.
“I feel like I’ve got a bit of a spring back in in my step because of what happened last week and I’m very confident in myself. Again, it’s a golf course I know how to get around and I know how to shoot good scores on.
“It has a lot of great memories. I’ve won here twice. Dubai is a place that I’ve gotten to know very well. It’s a place I love to come back to.
“I missed it last year and I missed having a chance to win and having a chance to compete. It’s always one of the highlights of the year for me to come and play here with the memories that I have. I’m looking forward to getting back out there on Thursday and trying to give myself another chance to win.”
Sergio Garcia: “It’s obviously great to be back here in Dubai defending our title. Beautiful weather, the course looks great and the greens are rolling very nicely. I think that every week, we come out and we try to do our best, play the best we can every single week, and that’s the same thing I’m going to do this week.
“It’s not like every time that every guy that won here has won the Masters, or for that matter a Major, throughout that year. I guess it’s just a coincidence it happened last year and the year before. But you know, neither Danny (Willett) or I are going to complain about it for sure.
“For me last year winning here against Henrik (Stenson), with Henrik playing well, and myself playing well, and kind of keeping him off my back throughout the whole day, I think that was the most important thing mentally. That helped me a lot. It gave me more confidence as I went on through the year.”