From Brian Keogh in Dubai
Rory McIlroy plans to play his way into a dream pairing with Tiger Woods after failing to land a plum draw with the world number one for the first two rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic.
And while the Holywood teenager is making no rash predictions about his goals for the week, he firmly believes that he can make a real splash providing he can avoid the late mistakes that cost him dear in Qatar last Sunday and Dubai last year.
Playing as an amateur in the 2007 edition of the tournament, McIlroy looked at the scoreboard and saw he was level with Woods with two holes of his third round to play but four-putted the 17th after being stung by a wasp and then finished with a 76 on Sunday.
He’s hoping to go a lot better than his share of 55th place last time and while he was bitterly disappointed to slither from joint eighth to 33rd after a final round 74 in Doha on Sunday, he believes he has climbed a steep learning curve over the past 12 months.
“It would be great to be able to play with Tiger this week sometime,” said McIlroy, who outshone playing partners Ernie Els, Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood in a nine-hole charity fundraiser run by his sponsors Jumeirah Golf Estates on the adjoining par-three course yesterday.
McIlroy had four birdies as he and Westwood finished second in the 12-man betterball event behind winners Henrik Stenson and Colin Montgomerie with Woods and Darren Clarke in third place.
The veteran Scot and Swede Niclas Fasth have the honour of partnering Woods for the first two rounds here, but McIlroy is still hopeful that he can play well enough to give himself the chance of partnering the world’s top player on Sunday.
"I don't think I'll get intimidated by him,” said McIlroy, who described Woods Sunday performance at Torrey Pines as akin to a walk in the park. “He's just really good and I've got a lot of respect for him. He's probably the best player that's ever lived.
"You know, he's a pretty intimidating person. But to be honest, he's just like the rest of us. He's just tremendously good at golf.
"I met him at the Scotty Cameron studio in Carlsbad a few years ago. But it was only two minutes, ‘Hi, how you doing’, in February, 2005.
"I'd love to get a chance to chat with him and see what he thinks about everything that went on early in his career and how he handled it and what he thought about it."
McIlroy came close to being paired with Woods in last year's Classic before a poor finish to his third round sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
And while he slipped to a share of 52nd in the end, he loves the course and has set his sights on being in the shake-up on Sunday.
Paired with David Frost and Martin Erlandsson for the first two rounds, he added: "I played pretty well the first two rounds last year and shot two 69s. I went three under for my round after 16 on the third day, as well, and I think that got me into the top 15 at that point, and I was actually tied with Tiger.
"Tiger was walking up 10, and I saw the scoreboard and he was on the same score as me which was pretty cool. But I dropped two in the last two holes which was pretty disappointing.
"All in all it was a great week for me. On the last day the shamaal came in and it was a pretty tough day and I shot a 76. But it was a great learning curve for me and will stand me in good stead for this career."
While McIlroy has made a fast start to his first full season as a professional to stand 63rd in the Order of Merit and 22nd in the Ryder Cup standings, he confessed that he was disappointed with a Sunday 74 in last week's Qatar Masters that sent him crashing from joint eighth overnight to 33rd.
He said: "After shooting 66 on Saturday, I felt as if I had a chance going into the last round if I got off to a fast start.
"I felt if I could get maybe four under after nine, I'd have a good chance. But I think after dropping three shots in the first three holes, I probably just tried a bit hard. If I can get myself into position like that again going into the last day this week, I'll hopefully know what to do.”
With regular caddie Gordon Faulkner awaiting the birth of his first child this weekend, McIlroy has Holywood club-mate Harry Diamond on the bag this week.
"It just means I have to work a bit harder and do my own yardages this week,” McIlroy said. “He's a pretty good player, so he knows what to do on the bag. Hopefully he won't have much of a problem."