Rory McIlroy making a comeback in Abu Dhabi
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, waves on the 15th hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at the Quail Hollow Club Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.
McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 - at the South African Open - and felt its after-effects throughout the year.
McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.
"Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them," McIlroy said. "But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set."
Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.
"After that 3 1/2 months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10."
McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.
"I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 per cent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person," McIlroy said. "Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again."
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.
"I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at," McIlroy said. "I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States."
The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.