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Rory McIlroy prioritising strategy over power in 2022 in hope of emulating Tiger Woods

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 19/01/2022 James Corrigan
Rory McIlroy prioritising strategy over power in 2022 in hope of emulating Tiger Woods - Getty Images © Getty Images Rory McIlroy prioritising strategy over power in 2022 in hope of emulating Tiger Woods - Getty Images

Rory McIlroy sets out on a new competitive year in Abu Dhabi determined to stop trying to copy Bryson DeChambeau, but instead to emulate a younger, more “cautious” Tiger Woods.

This will be bittersweet news for the Northern Irishman’s legions of admirers. On one hand, they will be delighted to hear that the 32-year-old has given up the ill-advised pursuit of extra length and abandoned the swing changes that last year led to a dramatic downturn in fortunes before a mini-revival after the Ryder Cup.

However, his supporters will also be fearful that McIlroy’s mission to find more fairways off the tee will mean him hitting more three-woods. McIlroy in full motion with the driver is one of the game’s most glorious sights, but as he seeks the accuracy he feels could end his seven-year drought in the majors, McIlroy is prepared to apply the brakes.

“The best player of the last 30 years, Tiger Woods, picked and chose where he hit driver and played a very controlled game,”

McIlroy, the world No 8, said. “It didn’t work out too badly for him, did it? I’m not saying my game compares to his in any way, but there are certainly aspects of what he did so well that I would obviously love to put into my game.

“The fairways-hit stats is a big one for me. If I can hit the ball in the fairway 60 per cent of the time with how far I hit it, I’m going to create a lot of opportunities. So maybe it is throttling back and hitting three-wood a little more often or hitting clubs that are maybe not as aggressive off tees and just putting myself in the fairway. Maybe it’s just being a little bit more of a measured and  controlled golfer.”

McIlroy tees off at Yas Links on Thursday alongside Lee Westwood and defending champion Tyrrell Hatton with fresh ambitions. The first is obvious and could provide a notable springboard towards another 2022 goal.

In his 14 full seasons as a professional, McIlroy has yet to win on his first start of a campaign. No shame there, except McIlroy has done everything but lift silverware in his opening event. There have been five runners-up, five third-place finishes and two other top fives. McIlroy laughs when it is labelled “a curse”, but it is doubtlessly a bewitching record.

Perhaps the new venue will help him finally get over the line in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Last year he racked up his eighth top three at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, having taken the lead into the final round. “Maybe this is what’s needed to end up winning this thing – a change of course,” he said, with a grin. “But, in truth, Abu Dhabi’s always been a great place to start the year for me and hopefully I can continue that trend of playing well, first time up.

“It’s funny, when I used to travel here, on the flight I’d write down what I wanted to achieve that year. So, I want to win five times, I want to win a major; I want to win the Race to Dubai; I want to win the FedEx Cup; I want to do this or that. And, of course, I want to do all those things again. Actually, I’d love to win six times in a season. I’ve never done that before. I’ve only won five.”

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