By Mathieu Wood
A lot has changed since Rory McIlroy won his maiden DP World Tour title at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic in 2009.
Back then the Northern Irishman was a curly-haired teenager with a prodigious talent searching for his first professional title.
Since lifting the famed Dallah trophy 14 years ago at Emirates Golf Club, McIlroy has become a four-time Major Champion and risen to the summit of the men’s game.
In ‘The Walk of a Hero’, the 33-year-old provides a revealing insight into his development as a golfer as he begins his 2023 campaign at the venue where his career burst into life.
“It was one of those weeks where I felt on my game and everything just felt right,” he said.
“At that stage in my career I felt my game had to be that way to win a golf tournament. I felt like everything had to be firing on all cylinders. For the whole week it really was.”
Already ranked 29th in the Official World Golf Ranking at the time of his breakthrough win in Dubai, McIlroy had come close to a maiden win a year earlier as he suffered play-off defeats at the Omega European Masters and the Hong Kong Open.
“The one thing I really loved about that period in my career was that I was blissfully unaware of a lot of stuff.
“I was very naïve, I just wanted to play golf.
“I was happy to make the mistakes because I could learn from them.
“If I had altered anything or gone through my career in a different way I probably wouldn’t have ended in the place that I am.”
Fast forward to his 13th appearance at the Dubai Desert Classic and McIlroy is bidding to build on a sensational 2022 in which he won both the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai Rankings and claimed the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup for a record third time.
“I found a level of consistency last year that I don’t know if I have ever had before in my game,” he said.
In last year’s Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy – who won the event for a second time in 2015 – suffered disappointment as he found water with his second shot at the 72nd hole, to miss out on a play-off by one shot.
Yet, McIlroy insists he wouldn’t change how he approached the shot if placed in the same scenario again.
“Looking back on it, it was an awkward lie, the ball was slightly below my feet.
“It was still the right club. It was just a bad swing and a bad shot at the right time. But if I had it all over again, I would still hit the same club and try to hit the same shot.
“It just didn’t come off the way I would have wanted. It was tough at the time. I was properly angry when I got back in the locker room afterwards... The good thing about golf is there is always next week.”
Rory McIlroy's first range session of 2023.#HeroDDC | #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/yuzO7RVvVB— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 25, 2023
McIlroy knows he has an opportunity here to kickstart his campaign in the perfect way and set his stall out for another successful year.
“It has been a while since I have won in Dubai,” he said.
“It doesn’t feel like eight years ago but here we are. It would be a great way to start the year, sort of banish the demons that are left from last year as well.
“If anything, I am just excited to get the year started.”