Just six weeks after putting his clubs away for the winter, Rory McIlroy will tee it up in Abu Dhabi on Thursday with every intention of taking up where he left off last year — contending.
As he explained in Dubai during the European Tour's season-ending event last November (before heading to Australia for his final tournament), his legal action against Horizon Sports Management (set for the Four Courts from February 3) is not going to take away from his early season schedule:
Q. You said your schedule won't be disrupted pre‑Masters, but do you have a concern about such private stuff being played out in such a public manner and domain before the Masters?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, that's something that's just a part of it. It's not like I'm worried in any way, because I definitely don't feel like I've done anything wrong. But yeah, that is‑‑ it's not ideal, of course. But that's the nature of it and yeah, it is what it is. (Laughter).
Q. In the past when you've had other stuff going on in your life, it's tended to impact on your golf, but you seem very confident that won't be the case this time. Why is that? Why have you matured?
RORY McILROY: I've got used to it (laughter). I've got used to it. That's what it is. I'm better at compartmentalising between stuff that's happening off the course and then being able to focus on what's going on on the course. So I've got better at it. I've got used to it. It's just something that it's been a part of my life for the last couple years, so that's how and that's why I handle it better now.
Q. When do you envisage it all being over in the next year, and will it impact on playing in the Dubai Desert Classic?
RORY McILROY: It will not impact playing in Dubai. As I said, it won't impact my early season schedule. I'll be able to play all the events that I usually play.
It was no surprise, then, to see McIlroy confirm his Dubai Desert Classic appearance and he hear him reiterate his belief that nothing will impinge on his preparation for a 2015 season that will run closer to 21 or 22 events than the 24 he has averaged since 2011.
As the plaintiff in the case against Horizon and others, he says the prospect of spending time in the witness box holds no fears for him.
Reiterating what he said in November — "I definitely don't feel like I've done anything wrong" — McIlroy said: "I mean, not‑‑ you know, I just have to get up there and tell the truth. I mean, that's all I need to do."
n many ways, the build up to the court case reflects McIlroy's build up to the majors in recent years. Speaking about the Masters, where he will going for his third major win in a row and the career Grand Slam, he said:
"For me it's about trying to treat it as if ... the same way I have and not put any more emphasis on it than there already is. It's the first major of the year. People have been waiting for eight months for a major to come around. There's so much build up and hype going into Augusta, anyway.
"So it's just about making sure I'm as well prepared as I possibly can be going into that event, and I feel like I've got a good routine and mental strategy going into Majors now where I try not to let too much affect me, and I try not to look at too much stuff and really just go into my own little world for those couple of weeks.
"It's been working pretty well, so I'll try to just keep doing what I've been doing and keep to my routines, and if I can do that, that will give me the best possible chance to play well that week."
As for the possibility that a six to eight week court case might be something of a distraction, he said:
"No, it's not at all. I've literally not thought about it since whenever I last had to talk to someone about it. I haven't talked to someone about it ‑‑ again, I just go with what the lawyers say and they tell me to just sit tight and not talk much about it and that's it.... Why would it? It's no big deal. I'll be okay at the end of the day."
McIlroy will tee it up with Rickie Fowler and Matteo Manassero, going off the 10th at 740am local time as he bids to finally win an event where rules infractions have arguably cost him two wins:
'I've come close a couple of times, being on the wrong side of the rule book twice out of the last three years and that's cost me. I think one of the goals this week is just to have no penalty shots when I don't need them, and see where I end up at the end of the week.
"It's a golf course that I know I can win on and it's just a matter of being smart and being fully aware of what you're doing and not brushing sand off a fringe or not having your foot on a white line that shouldn't be there, so it is what it is. But before, hopefully in the not‑too‑distant future I can win this event, because I've come close, and for it be to the eighth year, I feel like I've been patient enough. So hopefully this is the year."
Since 2008, McIlroy's Abu Dhabi form guide reads: T11, T5, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, MC, T2.
Naturally, he's looking to begin 2015 by making it eighth time lucky in Abu Dhabi. After all, wins are almost certainly among the seven goals for the season he jotted down on his boarding pass when he flew out to Dubai just over a week ago:
“Every year I fly here and I do a week or ten days of preparation in Dubai before this tournament, and I write my goals down on the back of my boarding pass, put it in my wallet and memorise them,” said the 25 year old. “Then I don't look at them until the end of the year.
“So in my back pocket, in my wallet, is a boarding pass with my goals for this year. I don't really want to share them with anyone else as they are just my little goals, and I'll try and achieve those and take that boarding pass out at the end of the year and see how well I've done.
“Over the Christmas period I had my first chance to really look back and reflect on the year and even watch a few of the highlights of some of the tournaments that I won, so it was nice to reflect, but I feel 2014 has really set me up for another great year. I feel like I'm coming into this year with a nice little bit of momentum, and my game is feeling good.
“It was nice to have that little break, but it's time to look forward now towards this season, and try and accomplish the goals that I set for myself at the start of this year.
“I know they have made a few changes, but it's a golf course I've always felt comfortable on, one that has suited me, and I've played well here in the past. I think this is my eighth year in a row starting the season off here, so I'm pretty familiar with the place and looking forward to another strong start to the season.”