Rory McIlroy admits he must resist the urge to play like Seve Ballesteros if he’s to continue his relentless rise in the world rankings.
Maturing in leaps and bounds, the swashbuckling world No 2 loves being the showman with a silky swing. But he knows taking on the hero shot at the wrong time is a recipe for disaster if he’s to close the gap on world No 1 Luke Donald.
Believing maturity is the key to winning his second Dubai Desert Classic this week, Rors said: “Looking back at last year, there were a couple of times where I took on a shot where I shouldn’t have. Like third hole at the US PGA, where I hit the tree root.
“You’re trying to visualise the shot that will only come off one time out of 20 and you’re sort of thinking about what would Seve do.
“Maybe you can take it on if you really need to make a par or birdie to win but you don’t really need to be doing it on the third hole of the tournament.”
McIlroy jarred his wrist attempting a Seve-style escape from trees in the first round of the US PGA in Atlanta and ended up in hospital.
He played for the rest of the week with heavy strapping on his arm and trailed home 64th behind champion Keegan Bradley.
Since then the 22-year old US Open champion has changed his game plan to play more like Jack Nicklaus than the late, great Spaniard.
And it’s worked like a dream as he’s racked up two wins and six top-10’s in 10 starts since that US PGA boob.
Brimming with confidence, McIlroy has not doubt that he has grown up quickly over the past year and matured as a golfer.
He said: “I feel like I’ve definitely matured a lot this past year as a golfer and probably just as a person as well.
“I think if you mature as a person, it shows in your golf game as well, and I feel like I can play more controlled golf when I need to.
“When you’re not playing as well, you need to know your limitations. When you’re 100 percent, you can take on shots. But whenever your aim is slightly off, you need to just reel it back in a little bit and play the percentages a bit more.”
His goal is become like Tiger Woods in his prime and win with his “B” game.
In Abu Dhabi last week he drove the ball poorly by his high standards yet still managed to clinch second place behind Robert Rock in an event where he was docked two strokes for ilegally brushing sand off his line when just off the ninth green on Friday.
And as Woods bids to win his first US Tour title for more than two years in this week’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, McIlroy will be going for his fifth win in the same time frame.
Fans will expect fireworks from the start today with McIlroy playing alongside Dubai specialist Alvaro Quiros and Abu Dhabi winner Rock .
McIlroy wants to make up for last year when he opened with a 65 and added a 68 but then faded to 10th with weekend rounds of 75 and 74.
So good where his first two rounds that he was joint leader on Sunday morning but with the wind blowing and impatient for his first European Tour victory since that 2009 breakthrough, he lost his patience and finished five shots behind Quiros.
All has changed since then, of course, with the demons of Augusta exorcised by that historic eight-stroke US Open triumph and an end-of-season gold run that brought two wins and a rash of top 5 finishes that saw him briefly reach world No 2 before ending the year ranked third behind Donald and Lee Westwood.
Back at No 2 again, he spent last week working hard on his driving, which let him down in Abu Dhabi.
“I feel like I am a better playing coming in this year,” McIlroy said ominously. “Every time I’ve teed it up in the last few months I feel like I have been in contention so I am getting used to being up there.
“Hopefully this is another week where I can be near the top of the leaderboard again.”
His next start will come in the US, where the WGC-Accenture Match Play will signal a run of American events culminating in his eagerly awaited return to Augusta National.
He has “unfinished business” at the Masters and if he can win this week or in the desert in Tucson, he knows that he will go into the Masters with a golden opportunity to put a huge dent in Donald’s slim 1.79 point lead at the top of the world rankings.