Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth will lock horns for the first time in 2016 at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and World Number One Spieth is relishing the opportunity to play alongside his Northern Irish counterpart and his fellow American Rickie Fowler for the opening two days.
The two-time Major Champion is making his first appearance at a regular European Tour event and could not be entering the opening tournament of the Desert Swing in better shape.
The 23 year old stormed to a record-equalling victory at his first appearance of the year on the US PGA Tour in Hawaii two weeks ago – where he finished eight shots clear with a remarkable 30 under par total.
McIlroy, meanwhile, makes his first start of the campaign at the pristine Abu Dhabi Golf Club and he is hoping to better his four runner-up finishes in the last five years at the Middle Eastern destination by emulating Spieth’s winning start to 2016.
“It was a nice break over Christmas and New Year. I felt like I needed it mentally and physically a little bit. So it was nice to take that extended break and come back feeling really refreshed and excited to go.
“I’ve said this before: I don’t think there’s any better place to start the year than here in Abu Dhabi, with the weather, the golf course, the field that HSBC is able to put together. It’s a real competitive start to the year, and I feel like it’s really helped me start the year quickly and well over the past few years, and hopefully that’s the same case this year.
“I want to play my best, and I don’t have to just beat Jordan Spieth this week. I have to beat another 142 guys. So it would be foolish of me to think that that’s all that my competition was, and I think it would be an injustice to every other player that’s in the field. There’s so much talent on Tour and there’s so much depth that if you forget about everyone else that could win the tournament – it’s not really smart to do that.”
“It’s been beautiful here. We had a great afternoon here at the course yesterday. We had a fun morning filming for HSBC with Rickie, Rory and Henrik doing some fun activities over at the club next to where we’re staying.
“This is an event I’ve actually watched. Considering I haven’t played this week in the past few years, I’ve actually watched a considerable amount of this tournament on TV. So it’s cool to play holes that you’ve watched these other guys play, at a place like Abu Dhabi this year, it’s very hard to beat.
“I feel great. I came home from Hawaii, took a couple days off, went and saw my instructor, and I actually feel better about the way I’m striking my irons coming into this week than I did going into Hawaii.
“I’m trying to maintain my putting and maintain my short game statistics, and the way I drove the ball, and my irons feel very much improved. I’m not going to shoot 30-under this week; I don’t think that’s possible on this golf course.
“That was a dream come true week for me, everything came together and I scored incredibly well. But if I can drive the ball in the places that I was driving it in Kapalua keep it in the short grass here, I feel very confident about my chances.”