McIlroy secret to overcoming a slump: Don't panic
Rory McIlroy looks as though he was just asked if Tiger Woods is finished as a major force. Picture Eoin Clarke /

Rory McIlroy looks as though he was just asked if Tiger Woods is finished as a major force. Picture Eoin Clarke /

Rory McIlroy says he’ll unsheathe his driver and go for the green at the 325-yard 17th even if he has a three-shot lead in the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He’s not short a bob or two but a $2.5m hole-in-one prize is too hard to resist.

"There are not many chances you have to win $2.5 million in one shot, so I'll give it a go," McIlroy said. "If you're confident enough with your driver, why not? It might not even be a driver. If they move the tee up, it's only going to play 295 or 300 yards. It's a 3-wood. Why not?"

We may never hear what Jay Townsend thinks of that move, if it ever happens. Nor are we likely to hear McIlroy give Tiger Woods any career advice when they are paired together for the first two rounds of an event that offers the winner a decidedly more modest prize of $414,383.

Woods and McIlroy don't rely on prize money to make ends meet in the appearance fee era and their grouping with defending champion Stephen Gallacher. Instead they will be gunning for a win and bragging rights as the countdown begins to the real business at Augusta National in April.

Following his 79 at Torrey Pines last Saturday, the sound of chiseling can be heard on Woods’ tombstone once more. One wonders if McIlroy would be tempted to tell Tiger that refusing to panic was the key to his own emergence from the doldrums.

Tied for second behind Rafael Cabrera Bello in Abu Dhabi in his first start to the season, it’s ironic given the hullabaloo surrounding their last meeting as Nike stablemates in the gulf nearly a year ago, that Woods — even more so than usual — is now the player under the harsh glare of the spotlight.

Woods’ 79 has served to feed the doubts of those who are wondering if he will ever break a major duck that dates to June 2008.

Woods, who closed his Tuesday practice round in Dubai with a double bogey for a 71, insists that he’s not even remotely concerned. After all, his focus is on being ready for the four majors and with 71 days still to go before balls are in the air at August National, there’s no reason to start hitting any panic buttons.

“I hit it a lot better today, which was nice. I feel like I even putted a lot better, too,” Woods said. “I made a few changes on the range last night, and felt pretty good about what I was doing out there today.

“The aim is just to improve every day. Tuesday was better than Monday, and Wednesday was better than Tuesday. So hopefully tomorrow will be even better than today.”

Time will tell if the 38-year old is permanently stuck on 14 majors or not. But few are betting that McIlroy will wrap up his career without adding to his major haul and the Holywood man credits sticking to his guns and going back to his basics for his emergence from the mire late last year. Call it the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy theory - Don’t panic (and bring a towel).

“I never got to that point where I thought there was no way out,” McIlroy said “Never wondered, ‘How am I going to play well again?’ None of that. 

“But around the Open at Muirfield, I wasn’t playing well. I missed the cut. I wasn’t feeling good about my game at all. After that I payed a little better. Top-tenned in the PGA at Oak Hill and from then I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

“The thing that I learned was not to panic. Not to panic and not to look for different things. You have got to look at what got you here in the first place and not saying maybe I should try this or maybe I should go and talk to this guy or that guy and work your way out of it. Sometimes it takes longer than other times. 

“This particular period took longer than others to get out of but I just trusted the people around me and we knew what to do to put it right.”

As for Woods, he might not be panicking about his game but he’s certainly keen to cut back his schedule and according to ESPN’s Bob Harig, the signs are that he will skip next month’s WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson.

“The year basically gets pretty congested starting at the British Open," Woods said in Dubai. "I take the week of the Canadian Open off but then it's Firestone, then a week off, then all four playoff events, and then for the Americans there's a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup every year.

"And now with this new wraparound schedule going on, I think we're all trying to get our heads literally wrapped around it and trying to get a feel for it. It's very different."

Winning in Dubai would have a nice symmetry for McIlroy, who felt his maiden win in the event in 2009 gave substance to his early promise.

He’s certainly a different man to the 19-year old, curly haired wonder who survived a few back nine wobbles and held of Justin Rose down the stretch. 

“It’s always good to get a win early in the season and it will be good at least to be up there challenging for the trophy on Sunday,” he said. 

How has he changed? The hair, sure. But he also admits that fame has taken a minor toll on him.

“My physique, as well, I guess,” said the Co Down gym addict. “I am more experienced. I am more sure of myself. More confident. I feel like I belong. Not that I didn't then but I think that getting that first win was [important]. 

“Obviously a lot of things have changed in five years but as I person I guess I am sort of similar. A few things change you when you go up a few levels but in essence I am still the same person who was sitting here that Sunday night with the big coffee pot next to me.”

As for his return to form over the past three months and his title challenge in Abu Dhabi, he said:“It was really important [to carry the form from the Australian Open win into Abu Dhabi]. I was showing some good form. I played well in China, played well in Korea, played well in Dubai.  

“I didn’t feel a win was necessary because felt my game was getting back into the shape I wanted but to win down there was very nice, very satisfying. 

“It was great to end the year with a win, even though it wasn’t on any of the major tours and battling [Adam Scot] Scotty at the weekend. It was good to get the win and carry the momentum into this year. I didn’t really take too much time off and it feels good. 

“The last few months of 2013 were all about trying to get momentum going into this year. I took four weeks off after the FedEx Cup playoffs - should have only been three but I missed the Tour Championship. 

“In that time I did a lot of good work with Michael Bannon, my coach and sort of found a couple of keys and went with it to Asia. Went to the Korean Open and finished second. 

“Winning in Australia gave me the confidence to stand up my first tournament of the year and contend.”