‘I’ve turned a corner since Ryder Cup’: Rory McIlroy raring to go in Abu Dhabi

Depending on who you talk to, professional golf has either never had it so good or is on the brink of being torn apart by Saudi Arabians bearing gifts. The proposed Saudi-backed Super Golf League would bestow millions on those willing to break from established tours. It is the talk of the range at Yas Links as the European Tour – now DP World Tour – season gets under way and where Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland head a stellar field.

McIlroy has long since made clear his disdain for all things Saudi. His commitment instead is to this and the PGA Tour. On the eve of his restart, the Northern Irishman made the case for golf in existing form. “Honestly, I don’t think it [the European Tour] has ever been in a healthier position,” McIlroy said. “I think the alliance with the PGA Tour is massive.

“Think of the young players that are coming through. That the first American ever won the Race to Dubai last year in Collin Morikawa and you have these young players coming through from either side of the pond that want to play over here and travel.

“Look, the one disappointment for every European golf fan was the Ryder Cup last year. But I think it’s never been healthier. The tournaments are getting bigger. Sponsorship dollars are coming in to support events. Players are wanting to come back and play. I think it’s in a really good spot.”

McIlroy’s point is backed up by $8m (£5.8m) prize purses both at this tournament and next week’s Dubai Desert Classic.

Whistling Straits and a Ryder Cup thumping at the hands of the United States saw McIlroy reduced to tears of frustration. Detailed European assessment of what precisely went wrong in Wisconsin means a captaincy successor to Padraig Harrington being named appears some way off. Luke Donald and Henrik Stenson lead that particular race.

McIlroy rebounded impressively from team trauma with a win in Las Vegas before 2021 closed. He has resumed his alliance with his childhood coach, Michael Bannon, but insists his biggest challenge comes “between the ears”.

“Over the years I’ve learned when you get to this level there’s so many different ways to swing a golf club and everyone is trying to be somewhat perfect. You just have to know what you do well and just try to repeat that.

“It’s about creating a repeatable swing. It doesn’t have to be absolutely by the book and perfect but the more optimal you can be between the ears, that’s where you’re going to pick up shots and that’s the difference between winning and losing tournaments. That’s something that I continually, like everyone, just have to try to work on and become better at.

“I definitely feel like I turned a corner after the Ryder Cup. I think anyone that was paying attention saw I played better those few events I played after the Ryder Cup and it’s just trying to continue on what I’ve been working on since then. Trying to eliminate the big miss off the tee, those destructive shots where you make doubles from, rein that in a little bit and getting more effective with the scoring clubs.”

Tyrrell Hatton, the defending champion, admitted his attitude let him down during much of 2021. “I was doing no training, wasn’t that motivated to practise either,” said the Englishman. “It’s not always plain sailing. So I flew out to Orlando on New Year’s Eve and tried a two-week boot camp of training and practise. I found the motivation to go and do it.”

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