Dubai: World No.7 Rory McIlroy insists he hasn’t changed since he won his first professional tournament at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic (ODDC) here in 2009.
The 24-year-old Northern Irishman has won two Majors in between, 10 more professional tournaments and reached the pinnacle of both world and European rankings since his first success here kick-started his career five years ago. And despite having a famous tennis playing fiancé in Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki and a 10-year $250 million (Dh918.3 million) contract with Nike, the Ulsterman says he’s still the same old Rory.
“Obviously, a lot of things have changed in five years,” McIlroy said. “But as a person, I feel like I’m sort of similar.
“A few things sort of change when you go up a few levels. But in essence, I’m still the same person that was sitting here on that Sunday night with the big Coffee Pot next to me.
“I’m more experienced. I’m more sure of myself, more confident. I feel like I belong. Not that I didn’t then, but I think getting that first win was important.”
McIlroy recovered from a 12-month barren spell to win last month’s Emirates Australian Open and took that form into the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last week, where he finished tied for second. He also finished tied for third in the ODDC 25th anniversary 18-hole challenge match — involving all 20 event past champions — at Emirates Golf Club on Tuesday, carding four under par, two strokes short of joint winners Henrik Stenson and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
After a legal dispute with his management, a change in clubs and rumours surrounding his relationship with Wozniacki all affecting play last year — it finally seems the youngster is back in the groove.
“I’m playing well,” he said. “I played well in Abu Dhabi and feel like my game has come on a little bit since then as well, with the wedge play and stuff. So, I feel good driving the ball well, which is a big key for me, so hopefully I can keep that up.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s always nice to get a win early on in the season, and it would be nice to be up there at least and challenging for the trophy on Sunday.”