BEIRUT

Golf

Maturing McIlroy ready to play percentage game in Dubai Classic

Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland tees off in front of a billboard of UAE desert dunes on the 15th hole during the third round of Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI: World No. 2 Rory McIlroy said a more mature approach to his game can help him add to his trophy haul when he makes his seventh straight appearance at the Dubai Desert Classic Thursday.

McIlroy, 22, first appeared at the Dubai tournament as a precocious 16-year-old in 2006 and won the event in 2009 for his first European Tour win.

The Briton then bounced back from an agonizing near-miss at last year’s U.S. Masters to romp to a record eight-shot triumph at the U.S. Open.

“I feel I’ve definitely matured a lot this past year as a golfer and probably just as a person as well,” Northern Irishman McIlory told reporters Wednesday at the Majlis course in Dubai.

“I feel like I can play more controlled golf when I need to. When you’re not playing as well, you need to know your limitations, reel it back in a little bit and play the percentages a bit more.”

This approach worked for McIlroy at January’s Abu Dhabi Championship where only a two-stroke penalty denied him victory.

“I don’t feel like the golf that I played in Abu Dhabi deserved to win,” said McIlory.

“I scored very well and got myself into contention, which was great.”

McIlroy was paired with 14-times major winner Tiger Woods in three of four rounds in Abu Dhabi and was full of praise for the former world No. 1.

“I’d spent a little bit of time with him before that, but not as much as I did then,” said McIlroy.

“It was nice to play with him, and I felt relaxed out there in his company, and we chatted the whole way around.”

Woods has sunk to 18th in the world rankings and has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, suffering a collapse in form in the wake of revelations about his private life.

But he looked close to hitting top form after taking a share for third in Abu Dhabi and plays in this week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in California.

“Pebble at this time of the year can be a bit of a lottery, with the weather and you’ve got the three courses, so you don’t really know what to expect,” said McIlroy.

“But he’s got a great record at Pebble. What I’ve seen of him in Abu Dhabi, it looks like he’s well on his way to returning to some great form.”

Elsewhere Robert Rock says he no longer fears playing with the big names.

He better not. He is paired with McIlroy and defending champion Alvaro Quiros in Thursday’s opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

The 34-year-old Englishman, who cracked the top 100 in the rankings with his Abu Dhabi win last weekend, has found celebrity life to his liking. Rock Wednesday was mobbed by autograph seekers when playing a pro-am tournament and picked up a lucrative endorsement, signing on as the golfing ambassador for the opulent Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Plenty of people were still asking Rock about his shocking win over 14-time major winner Woods and he was happy to oblige. The two came into the final round tied but it was Rock who held his nerve to win the tournament by a shot over McIlroy. Woods was a further shot back in a tie for third.

“It doesn’t get much better than that for me,” Rock told the Associated Press Wednesday as he walked down the fairway of the first hole of the Emirates Club. “To make it better, it would need to be the same sort of scenario in a major championship. The chances of getting the pairings right for that are slim ... I think I will have a chance to win other tournaments but that one will definitely be a lasting memory.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 09, 2012, on page 14.

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