Dubai: He’s won the PGA’s Player of the Year three times and the $8 million DP World Tour Championship just as many. Now with the help of a new caddie, the Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy is back in Dubai attempting to win the European season finale for a fourth time.
New Yorker Niall O’Connor, who replaces Harry Diamond, will not just be assigned duties with McIlroy’s full bag of TaylorMade equipment including all 14 clubs, he will also attempt to keep his pal relaxed and loose through four days of intense play at the Jumeirah Golf Estates from Thursday.
“I feel like I could play in this place blindfolded,” he said on Monday. “ I’ve been coming back here for ten years, yeah, I know the place like the back of my hand.
“Niall is here. It’s going to be a fun week for us to get out there and, hopefully, I can play well the first few days and you know, we’ll get into the heat of battle, hopefully, on the weekend and that will be something that will be fun for both of us.
“Obviously Niall and I go back a long way, so yeah, for me at this point it’s just about trying to stay as relaxed and as loose as possible out there and he can definitely do that for me.”
The Ulsterman finds himself in an unusual position as he does not have a chance to win the European tour’s Race to Dubai as he is a distance behind leader Bernd Wiesberger from Austria, who has amassed 4802.4 points.
But McIlroy is not losing any sleep over it. “I’ve won it three times,” he said with a tinge of pride. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do it, but I just haven’t played enough counting European Tour events to have a chance.
“You look at someone like a Bernd Wiesberger that’s played 25, 26, 27 times, whatever it is. You know, those are the guys that deserve to be up there with a chance to win.”
Nevertheless, the three-time European Tour No. 1 is focused on playing closer to his best this weekend.
“One event left. I’ve had a nice couple weeks off after the Asian trip. I feel OK,” he said. “Looking forward to a couple of months off to be honest, but one last event, one final push.
“Back in Dubai at a place and course I have a lot of good memories at.
“It feels great to put myself in position to try to win a fifth (overall). I feel the way I’ve been playing over the last few months, if I just go out and do my thing, hopefully, I give myself another chance, finish the season off on a high note,” he added.
McIlroy was also happy to share his thoughts about playing in the Olympics for the first time, which he hopes to do at Tokyo in 2020.
“It will be a good experience,” he said. “You know, it’s something that I’ve never done before, and you know, this is — at this stage of my career, I feel like I’ve experienced most things in the game.
“So to experience something new, you know, 12 or 13 years into a career is going to be pretty cool again.”
A keen tennis fan, McIlroy believes that cutting short on travelling has helped even out his life. “I think this year has been a great learning year for me in terms of knowing what works,” he said. “I feel like I changed my schedule up a good bit this year, and it helped, not travelling quite as much at the start of the year.
“You know, so I don’t envision — why would I change next year? I’ve had a wonderful season this season and I feel like I’ve figured out a few things that really helped me.
“It’s been a good formula this year, and I don’t see any reason to change anything going into next year.”