Rory McIlroy surveys the course at Harding Park
Rory McIlroy is looking to the future Image Credit: AP

Dubai: At the age of 31, golf’s former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy may feel like one of the seasoned members of the PGA and European Tours but, given the recent achievements of the true veterans on the course, he feels confident he can continue to contend at the top for another 15 years.

Speaking in the UAE capital ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which begins on Thursday, the Northern Irishman says he has been inspired by the performances of veterans such as Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood. At the age of 44, Tiger Woods overcame four back surgeries to claim his fifth Masters at Augusta, Phil Mickelson (50) claimed the Pebble Beach title in California, while Lee Westwood — who is the defending champion in Abu Dhabi — claimed the 2020 Race to Dubai title, despite carrying a back injury and is now the grand old age of 47.

“Phil won in 2019 at the age of 48 and is still going strong, and what Tiger and Lee have done is amazing,” McIlroy told media in a conference from Abu Dhabi Golf Club. “I first came here to Abu Dhabi as an 18-year-old in 2008 and I couldn’t see myself playing past 40. Now I am 31 and that doesn’t seem to far away.

“Now I am older and I see what these guys are doing, I can now see myself playing for another 15 years and doing what Phil, Tiger and Lee have done.”

In a career that has 28 professional titles and four Majors, one thing McIlroy has not done is win in Abu Dhabi, and that is one thing he is aiming to put right this week.

Rory McIlroy has yet to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, despite over a decade of trying.

“It is always great to be back here. I came here for 11 straight years from 2002 to 2018 and I always love playing golf in the desert,” he said, “It is a great style of golf. To win here would be a great way to start the year. I have had 11 top fives in the opening tournament of the season but never had a win. That seems a bit strange but I feel great and every time I start a season it is a fresh start and I love that feeling.”

McIlroy’s last title came at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in 2019 and — despite a coronavirus-disrupted 2020 season that limited his travel from his home in the US — he admits that it has been too long a wait.

“My last win in China seems like a long time ago and the world is a very different place now,” he said. “I didn’t play that well coming out of lockdown but I definitely improved as the season drew to a close and I was getting my game back to where it should be. But, as I said, yes, 2019 seems like a long time ago and we hope to get back to winning.”

McIlroy also feels more confident about travelling, despite the COVID-19 risks that are still prevalent, and he is fully relaxed as he goes for glory in Abu Dhabi.

“Last year was very different and I didn’t travel over here,” he said. “Now we know a bit more and how to treat the virus and how it affects you, I feel more comfortable to be back and I am excited to be back. I have done everything to win here and hopefully this time around we can get the job done.”

Rory McIlroy factfile

Born 4 May 1989 (age 31)
Holywood, County Down, Northern Ireland
Height 5ft 9in
Nationality Northern Irish
Residence Jupiter, Florida, US
Turned professional 2007
Professional wins 28
Highest ranking 1 (2012, 106 weeks)
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour 18
European Tour 14
Asian Tour 1
PGA Tour of Australasia 1
Other 2
Best results in major championships
Masters 4th - 2015
PGA Championship Won - 2012, 2014
US Open Won - 2011
The Open Championship Won - 2014