Rory McIlroy is trying to accomplish something he’s never done in Abu Dhabi this week
By Kyle Porter 10 hrs ago3 min read
Getty Images Tiger Woods blog.
Rory McIlroy’s resume — or CV as it’s known where he’s from — is as long as it is impressive. He’s ticked off nearly every box anyone could have ever dreamed of over the course of his career. And when your career is that great and seemingly without holes (save that green-shaped one he can fill in April), there’s a tendency to start digging for ridiculous things a player has never accomplished.
LeBron James has never scored 65 points on a Tuesday in December in a city where the temperature was below 20 degrees. Fact. Mike Trout has never hit for the cycle on Columbus Day. Fact. Rory’s hole at hand is not quite as outlandish as those very much made up ones above, but it is a bit of a quirk in his career. He’s never won the first event he’s played in at the start of a calendar year.
What’s crazier, as Justin Ray recently pointed out, is that McIlroy has largely been in the mix at the genesis of his annual campaigns but never cashed in at the top of the heap.
McIlroy has never won in his first start of a calendar year, but has finished fifth or better in his first event in 12 of the last 13 years. That includes a top-five everywhere he’s started his year since 2014.
Most of these openers have come in Abu Dhabi where the European Tour kicks off its year, and even from a young age, McIlroy was competing for championships.
|2009||Abu Dhabi Championship||T5||4|
|2010||Abu Dhabi Championship||3||2|
|2011||Abu Dhabi Championship||2||8|
|2012||Abu Dhabi Championship||2||1|
|2013||Abu Dhabi Championship||MC|
|2014||Abu Dhabi Championship||T2||1|
|2015||Abu Dhabi Championship||2||1|
|2016||Abu Dhabi Championship||T3||2|
|2017||South African Open||2||Playoff|
|2018||Abu Dhabi Championship||T3||4|
|2019||Tournament of Champions||T4||8|
|2020||Farmers Insurance Open||T3||3|
The run he went on from 2012 to 2017 was pretty wild. He missed out on winning five events by a total of 10 strokes over the course of six years. The closest call he had came in 2017 when he opened in South Africa and lost to Graeme Storm in a playoff. McIlroy missed the next seven weeks after that with an injured rib, and it marked the first calendar year in his career he had not won since 2008 (he also failed to win in 2020).
At the Abu Dhabi Championship, he’s finished runner up to Martin Kaymer, Robert Rock, Pablo Larrazabal and Gary Stal. Not exactly a collection of hall of fame talent, but guys who had great weeks — like Kaymer who, at 24 under, won by eight in 2011 — nonetheless.
“I saw something the other day, of the 13 times I’ve played a first tournament of a season in my pro career, I’ve had 11 top fives,” McIlroy said this week. “The fact that there is no win in there is a little surprising I guess. I come out at the start of the year, and I don’t think you’re as fully sharp as you would want to be, but at least the optimism is there and the enthusiasm is there. There’s not any scar tissue built up from previous tournaments that year. I feel like every year is a fresh start and I like that feeling.”
This week, McIlroy again has a chance to break the streak at the spot where he’s almost done it so many times before. He also has a chance to break a 14-month winless streak, which is among the longest of his career.
He tees it up at this year’s Abu Dhabi Championship as a 11/2 co-favorite with Justin Thomas. While the field is solid — and players like Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick pose a threat — McIlroy and J.T. are clearly at the head of the class and one of them (or both) should have a chance to add to prodigious win totals come Sunday. For McIlroy, it would be another win in a seemingly endless run of them but also a specific first achievement for him after 13 years as a pro.
McIlroy starts his year at 7:30 a.m. local time on Thursday morning (10:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday evening) alongside Justin Thomas and Lee Westwood. Tiger Woods blog.