Rory McIlroy is looking forward to actually playing golf again after the buzz of his multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal and reports of his role in the selection of European Ryder Cup captain.
The world’s top-ranked golfer and PGA Championship winner leads a star-studded field at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship that includes No. 2 Tiger Woods, No. 5 Justin Rose, No. 24 Ernie Els and No. 28 Martin Kaymer. Play begins today.
McIlroy signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike this week and led the charge for Paul McGinley in his successful campaign to become Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup captain.
Now he’s looking forward to getting his year off to a strong start at the National Course, where he has repeatedly come up short against Kaymer, a three-time winner here in the United Arab Emirates.
“It’s a place I have done well. I think one problem for me the last few years has been Martin Kaymer. He’s played really well around here and won it a couple of times, three times I think, and I always came up second best,” said McIlroy, who is coming off a season-ending victory at the Dubai World Championship as well as the European and PGA tour money titles.
“It would be nice to go one better this week and obviously that’s what I’m aiming for, but it’s a great field and looks like the golf course is in great shape as well.”
Most of the questions to McIlroy this week have been about his new sponsorship deal — estimated to be worth up to $20 million a year — but he insisted his emergence as a super-rich athlete would have no bearing on how he approaches 2013.
“I’m just concentrating on playing golf. You know, all the financial side and everything like that will take care of itself,” the 23-year-old Northern Irishman said. “I’m in it to try and win trophies and they are worth more to me than any contract.”
The spotlight on McIlroy will be even bigger this week as he’s paired with Woods for the first two rounds, in a group that includes Kaymer, giving fans another chance to see golf’s two biggest names go at it.
MICKELSON STILL FIGHTING FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS
While the golf world focused on Woods and McIlroy in Abu Dhabi, Phil Mickelson had about as low profile as possible on the eve of his season opener.
Fighting flu-like symptoms for more than a week, the 42-year-old Mickelson traveled to La Quinta, Calif., from his home in Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego. He registered for the Humana Challenge, but didn’t play or practice at La Quinta Country Club — the site of his first round today — or PGA West’s two tournament courses.
Mickelson last spoke to the media Monday during a conference call for the Pebble Beach event, where he will go for a record-tying fifth win next month. “I have been sick. I’ve had what’s going around,” Mickelson said.
The illness cost him valuable practice time with instructor Butch Harmon, leaving the 40-time PGA Tour winner a bit unprepared as he enters a stretch of five or six straight tournaments that will end at Riviera or the Match Play Championship.