Rory McIlroy confident of bouncing back from winless 2017
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 17/01/18 2:33pm
A refreshed Rory McIlroy returns to action in Abu Dhabi this week feeling confident that a first victory in almost 16 months is "not far away".
McIlroy admitted that his first competitive outing after a three-and-a-half month break will be a "learning curve" in terms of where he is with his game, but he insisted he feels fitter and healthier following an injury-plagued 2017 campaign as he prepares to take on the likes of Dustin Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose in a star-studded field.
The four-time major champion was forced to miss last year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship due to a rib joint problem that would continue to hamper him throughout the season, but he believes those issues are now firmly behind him and he is looking forward to playing a busy schedule of eight tournaments in the build-up to the Masters in April.
"I'm excited to be back at a golf tournament, it's been a while," he said at his pre-tournament press conference. "The last few months have been really nice just to concentrate on a few things I needed to take care of in terms of getting myself fit and healthy to come back and sharpen up a few things in my game.
"Obviously this is the first real test of getting back and seeing how I am. So I'm looking forward to just getting out there and seeing how I perform when I need to. It's a place I've done well before and obviously a golf course I know well, so it's a comfortable place to come back and make a fresh start of the year.
"I'd love to win again, and I don't think there's any better feeling than winning a golf tournament. But I don't feel like it's that far away. I've practised and I've played and I've shot some really good scores over the past few weeks, but obviously it's different doing that to being out here on Thursday and really having a card in your hand.
"But from everything that I've seen in practice and playing over the past few weeks, there's no reason to think that it's not that far away.
"I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at. I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll walk away with from the two events and I'll have things to work on and maybe think about going into that stretch in the States.
"I can't really answer what I want to walk away with, but I think it will be quite revealing the next two weeks to see where I'm at with my game."
Asked how important it was to get back in the winners' circle before the first major of the season, he added: "I don't think I need to but I'd love to. I mean, it would be ideal if I were to win one of these next eight events or whatever, hopefully not just one. It would be great for my confidence going into Augusta.
"But even if that doesn't happen, hopefully I can take a lot of confidence away from things that I've seen in my game, maybe even if the results don't quite come my way. It's been nearly 16 months since I won, so I'd love to get back in the winner's circle as soon as possible."
McIlroy also revealed he would be preparing differently for tournaments over the early part of this season, getting to each event earlier than usual and putting in the practice he was unable to do last year, which took its toll mentally as well as physically.
"I didn't really practise much between tournaments last year because I couldn't," he added. "I was just trying to rest and trying to keep myself going, so that gets you mentally because every time you turn up at an event, you don't feel prepared.
"You don't feel like you've done enough work to be ready and then even if you do get yourself in contention, almost feel a bit guilty that you're there because you haven't done the work.
"So mentally, I just wasn't in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically. So that's been really nice now to be unrestricted in practice and do what I've needed to do and feel like I've put the body of work in so that when I go to tournaments, I feel prepared and I feel ready and I feel ready to challenge.
"But I think looking back on it, I'm going to try to get to golf tournaments a little bit earlier again, try to get in on Monday, and it just gives you an extra day to prepare on the course, get used to green speeds, rough lengths, firmness of everything, all that different stuff, because each week obviously the golf course changes quite a bit.
"So going to try to get to golf tournaments a bit earlier. That's something that I've sort of, you know, looking back on things that I want to do a bit differently. So that's getting back to something I've done in the past."