In elusive victory in Abu Dhabi passed Rory McIlroy by yet again, but the Northern Irishman is content following a third-place finish after returning to the golf course following a 100-day injury lay-off.
After shooting -3, -6 and -7 under par rounds across the opening three stanzas of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the world number 11 closed with a -2 under par 70 on his long-awaited return to action, finishing in a share of third with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick – four shots behind returning champion Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy’s challenge faded on the back nine yesterday, but he admitted to being “really happy” with his game following more than three months on the sidelines.
And he heads to the Dubai Desert Classic next weekend in confident mood. Unlike his luckless spell in Abu Dhabi, where he has finished runner-up four times and third twice, McIlroy has fond memories of Dubai – it was the scene of his first win as a professional, aged 19, in 2009.
“It’s a golf course I know very well,” McIlroy said of Emirates Golf Club, where the Dubai Desert Classic tees off on Thursday.
“My game is in good shape. I have no doubt if I can play the same way I played this week, I’ll have a good chance next week.
“It’s just a matter of dust myself off and, looking back on this week, it’s been a huge success for me, even though I didn’t win today. I felt like I got a lot out of it and I’m excited to get back at it again next week.
“It could have been a little bit better today. Overall, I’m really happy how I played this week.
“My game is in really good shape and I saw some really, really positive signs. I’m looking forward to next week in Dubai and obviously looking forward to the rest of the season.”
McIlroy, 28, shut down his 2017 campaign after the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October, citing a rib injury. It transpired that things were actually a little more serious as a heart irregularity was discovered.
But on the eve of his return, McIlroy insisted his health was never in danger. And the four-time major winner revealed he’s in a “better place” and claims he would have taken such a lofty finish on his return prior to the weekend.
“Yeah, I would have. I really would have,” he said.
“Again, I didn’t really know what my expectations were coming into this week. I just wanted to get back on the golf course and play again. I’ve done that and I’ve played pretty well. I felt like I did everything I wanted to do.
“I maybe didn’t get the ball close enough on the back nine today but it’s been really good. I’m really happy with how I played and it gives me confidence going into not only next week but the few months ahead, as well.
“Where I’ve come from the last three months, just in terms of my health and my golf and everything, I’m in a much better place now than when I left the game for a little bit in October.
“I’m really happy with that and just looking forward to getting back at it again next week and trying to put myself in contention again and try to get my name on that trophy one more time in Dubai.”
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