Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship: McIlroy to take inspiration from Woods heading into season-opener


Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
McIlroy is keen to add some elements to his game which made Tiger Woods successful in his pomp

Rory McIlroy says he would like to add aspects of the winning formula adopted by Tiger Woods to his game as he bids to build on the momentum of his post-Ryder Cup performances in 2022.

The most recent of Woods’ 15 major wins came at the Masters in 2019.

McIlroy begins his 2022 season at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“There are certainly aspects of what he did so well in the past that I would obviously love to put into my game,” said McIlroy of Woods’ approach.

McIlroy says he is not seeking to improve his driving distance, the Northern Irishman having previously caused amazement by admitting flaws in his swing were caused by trying to emulate the sort of length achieved by Bryson DeChambeau.

“No, I don’t need to,” explained the four-time major winner. “The goal of hitting more fairways, it maybe means throttling back and hitting three-wood a little more often or hitting clubs that are maybe not as aggressive off tees and just putting yourself in the fairway.

“I’ll certainly pick and choose my spots where I can take advantage of the driver and hit it, the best player of the last 30 years, Tiger, he picked and chose where he hit driver and he played a very, very controlled game. It didn’t work out too badly for him.”

McIlroy broke down in tears after beating Xander Schauffele to register his only point in Europe’s record 19-9 defeat by the United States at Whistling Straits last year, the world number eight feeling he “should have done more” in the contest.

Three weeks later McIlroy returned to action with a second PGA Tour title of the year at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas and the following month held the 54-hole lead in the DP World Tour Championship before being overhauled by Open champion Collin Morikawa and finishing tied for sixth.

And such form has given the 32-year-old “renewed optimism, excitement and anticipation” as he begins his 15th full season on the DP World Tour (formerly European Tour) at this week’s HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.

‘Objective and measurable goals I can control’

“I used to sit down on the flight here and write down I want to win five times, I want to win a major, I want to win The Race to Dubai, I want to win the FedExCup, I’d love to win six times in a season as I’ve won five in the past, I want to do this or that,” McIlroy said.

“And all those things are great goals and they are things to try to work towards. But I think the biggest thing for guys at the level that we’re at is I want to hit over 60% of my fairways.

“I want my proximity (to the hole) inside 150 yards to be a certain number. I want my strokes-gained putting to be a certain number. I can’t control if I win five or six times a year. There’s so many other variables in there. I’d rather set goals that are objective and measurable that I’m in control of.

“I can certainly control if I hit 60% of the fairways and I’d love to get my iron play back to where it was a few years ago. I can control if my stats are better than they were the year before.”

Rory McIlroy
McIlroy won the Wells Fargo Championship and the CJ Cup on the PGA Tour in 2021

‘Picking up where I left off last year’

First staged in 2006, this week’s event in Abu Dhabi is the first Rolex series tournament on the newly-named DP World Tour’s 2022 schedule.

McIlroy would love to finally win the season-opener after remarkably recording eight top-three finishes in his last nine starts without tasting victory, and he admitted with a rueful smile that the switch of venue from the Abu Dhabi Golf Club to Yas Links might work in his favour.

“I want to pick up where I left off at the end of last year. I felt I turned a corner after the Ryder Cup and played some good golf in that stretch,” he said.

“This golf course is in unbelievable shape, in great condition. The fairways are immaculate, the greens are perfect. To start the year here in these conditions is really, really nice.

“Visually there are some holes that are intimidating off the tee because you see there’s a little bit of trouble there but once you get up there there’s plenty of room to hit it.

“Coming to a course for the first time you just put a little bit more into it, a little bit more into your practice rounds, be a little bit more diligent in what you do.”

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