Sunday, 24 January 2016
Rory McIlroy  (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy (Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy set his sights on completing the career Grand Slam after starting his 2016 season with a tie for third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The World Number Three has used Abu Dhabi Golf Club as the launchpad for his campaign for the past seven years and had finished second in five of the last four events coming into this week.

Last season's edition was the first of three events he played before heading to the Masters Tournament for his attempt at completing the career Grand Slam after his victory at The Open Championship the previous summer.

The 26 year old finished fourth that year but, with more tournaments on his schedule before the trip to Augusta in the second week in April, he hopes he will be better prepared than ever.

"I feel my game is in good shape going into this run of golf that I've got coming up," he said. "It's a busy schedule that I've got going into the Masters.

"I would have liked to have started the season just that little bit better with a win.

I feel with my performance here, I can take plenty away from it and build on it and build gradually up towards the first Major of the season at Augusta - Rory McIlroy

"I don't know if I would say that I was under-golfed going into Augusta the last couple of years, but just the way the schedule is, there's a couple more tournaments that I'd like to play.

"The Match Play is the week before the Masters again, last year it was after.

"A couple extra tournaments, but I don't mind that. It means I'll be in good form and any sort of rust or anything I need to work on my game will be hopefully eradicated by that point."

McIlroy picked up five shots in his last seven holes on Sunday afternoon and was left to lament a spell of 18 holes between the back nine in the third round and closing front nine where he was one over par.

"I played a very, very average 18 holes. There was an 18-hole stretch where I played one over par. In a tournament like this, you just can't do that.

"So I gave myself a lot of work to do going into the last 18 holes and just didn't quite have it today. 68 I think is the best I could have done out there with the places I hit it. I don't think I hit a shot off the fairway until the ninth hole this afternoon, so if you're putting yourself out of position like that, it's going to be very hard to score around here."

Henrik Stenson finished alongside McIlroy at 14 under but revealed he was now going to take a week off to rest his knee.

The Swede finished second in the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the start of December and went under the knife four days later with just six weeks' recovery time before teeing it up here at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

"The knee is holding up pretty good," he said. "It's been a challenge walking, as I said earlier in the week, and I'm not 100 per cent, so I'm taking that decision to skip Qatar, even though it's a little sad. I've played every one since I came out on Tour in 2001.

"I really feel like I need to get some rest and do some rehab more and hopefully be 100 per cent for Dubai."

Thomas Pieters finished second on his own behind Rickie Fowler thanks to a birdie on the last and was happy to get the desert swing off to a positive start.

"I'm a little bit disappointed," he said. "I played pretty good today. Doesn't get much better: perfect weather, good company. Just looking forward to next week now.

"I hit it really well. Drove it a little bit better this weekend, so I'm going to give myself plenty of chances and could have dropped a couple more putts, but that's how it goes."

World Number One Jordan Spieth finished five shots off the lead at 11 under in his first European Tour event outside of the Major Championships and World Golf Championships, and he admitted his usually exceptional putting had held him back.

"We were off this week," he said. "I didn't make anything. I didn't get in a rhythm, and when I did have chances, they just wouldn't go.

"Just a little off on the read or the speed, one of the two. Sometimes that happens during a week, and we kind of grinded out eight under on the weekend in what really could have been something special but it also could have been worse."

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1FOWLER, RickieUSA18-16
2PIETERS, ThomasBEL18-15
T3STENSON, HenrikSWE18-14
T5SIEM, MarcelGER18-11
T5SPIETH, JordanUSA18-11

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