McIlroy has world at his feet

Rory McIlroy believes he can top his amazing rookie season by going global in 2009.

The Ulster hotshot, 19, became the youngest player in the history of the world rankings to make the top 50 last year when he racked up 10 top-ten finishes and made two play-offs.

But the world No 40 has no plans to abandon Europe for the PGA Tour and will play on both sides of the Altantic like stable mate Ernie Els and triple major winner Padraig Harrington.

Set to tee off alongside Michael Campbell and Aaron Baddeley in the Abu Dhabi Championship tomorrow (Thurs), McIlroy said: “I am not going to abandon ship. I’m going to try and mix and match and do what the other international players are doing.

“Henrik Stenson has a nice schedule. Sergio (Garcia) does his minimum here and a few over there. That’s the ideal thing - do your 12 or 13 here, another 12 or 13 in the ‘States and you have 25 events a year, which is perfect.”

McIlroy feels like one of the boys now and reckons he’s been accepted by the other top players after coming through a rough patch in the middle of the last season to become the youngest professional to earn his Masters invite.

Already set to practice with Els at Augusta, he said: “I played with Padraig for nine holes yesterday and I played with Badds this morning. I’m getting to know all these guys and it’s just great to be around them, see how they play and compare yourself to them. I feel very comfortable out there.

“Ernie’s a great friend to have, he’s a multiple Major winner. It’s great to know all these guys. I definitely feel I am a lot stronger now than I was 12 months ago when I pitched up at this tournament.”

McIlroy showed his mental strength last summer when he bounced back from a nightmare run of six missed cuts in nine events when he took on Ernie Els’ caddie JP Fitzgerald and concentrated on playing his natural game

He should have claimed his maiden tour title at the European Masters in Switzerland but bogeyed the last and then lost in a play-off after missing a 12 inch putt.

But that defeat proved to be a blessing and he pushed on spectacularly in the last four months of the season by jumping 140 places in the world rankings.

McIlroy said: “I’d gotten into a bit of negative way of playing so I started playing the way I used to play. You get on tour for a while and start listening to people instead of doing your own thing and doing your usual best. I just started doing that again.

“I’d been saying to everyone before I hadn’t been playing that badly and it was always going to happen. I was missing cuts by one and two but not playing that badly.

“Suddenly 63 at Crans and I was off and running. Then the 66 I had in the third round when I was leading, that was just massive.”

The Holywood star has yet to lay his hands on his Masters invitation but has already got plenty of takers for the eight guest passes he’s been allocated by Augusta National.

His parents Gerry and Rosemary, girlfriend Holly and coach Michael Bannon will be there but McIlroy also remembered a promise he made to Tandragee’s Stuart Paul, who won the North of Ireland title in 2001 and the West in 2002.

He said: “He’s the Titleist rep for Northern Ireland and whenever he was helping me out when I was younger, he said the only thing I want from you, if you ever play in the Masters, give me a ticket.”

As a top 50 player, McIlroy has cut the smaller events in the Far East out of his schedule and will play a string of PGA Tour events before and after the Masters before returning to Europe for the Irish Open.

On the Masters he said: "I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t really want to think about it to be honest. I’d just rather get up there and treat it as if it’s another … well, obviously it’s not just as another tournament but you know what I mean."

Still decorating his Ulster pad, McIlroy has no plans to move to the US but doesn’t rule out getting a base at Lake Nona in Florida, where pal Els and Graeme McDowell have homes.

Meanwhile Paul McGinley yesterday ruled himself out of the running for the 2010 Ryder Cup captaincy, insisting he wants to make the team at Celtic Manor.