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14 April 2024

McIlroy and Woods primed for duel in Abu Dhabi

Tiger Woods (right), Justin Rose (second left) and world number one golfer Rory McIlroy pose behind a camel during a photocall for the 20th Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on January 15, 2013. (AFP)


Rory McIlroy on Tuesday said that he was unfazed by his position as world number one and the weight of expectations, as the game's top stars gathered in the Gulf for the season opener.

The Northern Irishman, who on Monday signed a 10-year deal with sportswear giant Nike believed to be in the region of $250 million, making him one of the highest earners in all sports, said his rise over the last 12 months had changed nothing.

"It doesn't really make a difference to me," the 23-year-old told a news conference in the United Arab Emirates, where the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi Golf Championship gets under way on Thursday.

"I've always had high expectations of myself and every time I come into a tournament I want to feel like I have a chance to win. And if people think I have more of a chance to win than anyone else, that's fine.

"But I know that I'm going to have to play really good golf this week to have a chance and that's what I want to try and do. It's no different. I'll try and approach every week the same way."

McIlroy and former world number one Tiger Woods have been paired together for the first two rounds with three-time Abu Dhabi champion Martin Kaymer.

Woods, the 14-time Major champion and former world number one, goes into the tournament as a relative underdog and was peppered with questions about his rival. But he, too, said it would not change his approach.

Asked if he will be motivated to do better as McIlroy steals the limelight, Woods, 37, said: "You know, it doesn't. The whole idea is to get better and that's what I'm trying to do each and every year.

"If I get better, then I'm going to win golf tournaments. And I just need to continue focusing on what I can do.

"I can't control what any other player does out here. I can't influence what they do. All I can do is worry about my own game and getting more efficient at what I do.

"That's what I've tried to do over the years and it's been successful for me - and I see no reason in changing that."

Woods, now number two in the world, has not won in his first start of the season since the 2008 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines.

But since his full-time professional debut in 1997, he has triumphed six times in his season-opener and had 12 top 10 finishes in 15 seasons.

Nevertheless, he said he is not out to make any statement of intent this week.

"I just want to get off to a good start. I think it's important that I get off to a good, solid start," said Woods, who finished tied third in Abu Dhabi last year in his maiden appearance.

"I'm playing two weeks in a row and I had a nice break and have geared up for these two weeks and have tried to get mentally and physically ready for these two tournaments.

"That's what I'm doing over the years... I have generally gotten off to nice starts after breaks and last year I had a chance going into the final round, made a few mistakes, but I was there.

"That certainly gave me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the year, as well, because I've been able to get off to a good start. Hopefully, I can do the same this year, but finish a couple spots higher than I did last year."

McIlroy, who has finished fifth, third and twice runner-up in the past four years in Abu Dhabi, meanwhile described his current situation as an "exciting time", adding that he was hoping to translate his efforts on the practice ground to the course.

The reigning PGA champion said that he was now able to control his new ball in wind and had picked up speed and distance with his new driver and irons.