‘I feel in a very competitive frame of mind. I’m not down here to enjoy myself, I want to start the year off very well and get my confidence up from the beginning,’ said Rory McIlroy at Glendower Golf Club on Tuesday.
The world number two, who capped off 2016 with a playoff victory at the PGA Tour Championship, will begin his year at the SA Open, which starts on Thursday.
‘First time in South Africa for a while,’ said the Northern Irishman. ‘I played the SA Amateur and Eisenhower Trophy way back in 2005 or 2006 and played here quite a lot in my first couple of years as a pro: Leopard Creek, Pearl Valley, Sun City. I’m happy to be back here.’
McIlroy agreed to play at Glendower Golf Club as a favour to tournament host Ernie Els, who has been a guiding light for the young star.
‘I’ve always been a fan of (Ernie’s) game and him as a golfer, but then I’m a huge fan of him as a person,’ said McIlroy. ‘Getting to know him and Liesl and the kids, we see a lot of each other down in Florida, it’s gone from there.
‘Anything I can do to help Ernie I always will. I actually named my first dog after Ernie, I called him Theo, Theodore. So it’s been a good relationship.’
McIlroy came close to victory at the 2008 SA Open. His goal will surely be to win this week, but course knowledge will play a big role this week in avoiding the thick rough.
‘Played Glendower for the first time today and thought it was a really good golf course. Looking forward to playing down here,’ he said on Tuesday.
‘I was one shot out of the playoff back in 2008, which actually got me into the top 50 in the world for the first time. I have good memories of that, so I’d like to go a couple of spots better this week.’
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Professionals who compete at McIlroy’s level are capable of sizing up a golf course in one day. He expected accuracy off the tee to be the vital ingredient in Ekurhuleni this week.
‘There’s been a lot of rain here, so the course is quite soft, which puts a premium on hitting fairways. If you hit fairways this week you’ll score pretty well, with the greens being soft and holding.
‘Today was about getting to know the golf course a little bit, making sure I have lines off tees and know what clubs I’m hitting on certain holes. I felt pretty comfortable,’ he said.
Nike golf announced its withdrawal from the manufacturing business last year, which left McIlroy without a future equipment provider. He was spotted using the TaylorMade M2 driver during the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but this week he’s got Callaway in the bag.
‘Right now I’m playing a certain setup, but that could change week to week nearly. This is my first competitive tournament with these clubs, so we’ll see how it goes.
‘All signs point to them being pretty. Again, there’s the person at the end of the club is more important than what the club actually does. As long as I’m swinging well then hopefully that’s all that matters,’ he said.