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Rory McIlroy prioritizes strategy over power in 2022 in hopes of emulating Tiger Woods – Getty Images

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

This will be bittersweet news for the Northern Irishman’s legions of fans. On the one hand, they will be delighted to know that the 32-year-old has abandoned the ill-advised search for extra length and ditched the swing changes that last year led to a dramatic drop in fortunes before a mini-renaissance after the Ryder Cup.

However, his fans will also fear that McIlroy’s quest to find more fairways off the tee means he has to hit more threes. McIlroy in full motion with the driver is one of the most glorious sights in the game, but as he searches for the precision he feels could end his seven-year drought in the majors, McIlroy is ready to hit the brakes.

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

McIlroy, the world number 8, said. “It didn’t work out too bad 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.

“Lane hitting stats are important to me. If I can hit the ball down the fairway 60 percent of the time with the distance I hit, I’m going to create a lot of opportunities. So maybe it’s slowing down and hitting three woods a little more often or hitting clubs that maybe aren’t as aggressive off the tees and just getting into the fairway. Maybe it’s just being a little more measured and controlled golfer.”

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

In his 14 full seasons as a pro, McIlroy has yet to win in his first start of the season. There’s no shame there, except that McIlroy has done everything but lift trophies in his opening event. There have been five runner-up finishes, five third-place finishes and two other top-five finishes. McIlroy laughs when it’s labeled “a curse,” but it’s certainly a spellbinding record.

Maybe the new venue will help him finally get over the line at the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. Last year he racked up his eighth top three at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, having taken the lead in the final round. “Maybe this is what it takes to end up winning this, a change of course,” he said with a smile. “But really, Abu Dhabi has always been a great place to start the year for me and I hope I can continue that trend of playing well from the start.

“It’s funny, when I was traveling here, on the flight I would write down what I wanted to accomplish 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 would love to win six times in one season. I have never done that before. I’ve only won five.”


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