Abu Dhabi – An eventful week for Rory McIlroy ended in frustration on Friday as he departed the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the halfway stage after failing to come to terms with his new Nike clubs.
The world No.1 was the star turn on Monday in the Gulf emirate as his mega-money, long-term deal with the US sportswear giant was unveiled in a glitzy ceremony.
He then used his status as the top-ranking golfer in the world to help push fellow Irishman Paul McGinley past the winners post in the race to be Europe's next Ryder Cup captain.
All was well until McIlroy returned to competitive play for the first time since early December and that's when things started to go wrong.
It was clear early on in Thursday's opening round that he still had issues with his new Nike sticks despite weeks of getting used to them during his winter break.
An opening 75 left him well down the field and there was to be no charge up the leaderboard on Friday as he sprayed shots off the tee and struggled all day with his putter, even after switching back to his old one.
Another 75 left him six over par, in joint 98th position out of a field of 126 and faced with his first missed cut since last summer's US Open in San Francisco.
“It wasn't so good,” commented the 23-year-old Northern Irishman of his form over the two rounds, but he insisted again that it was not the clubs that were to blame.
“I mean, it's the first week out. I wouldn't look too much into that,” he said.
“If anything, it's more the Indian than the arrow at this stage. So a few hours on the range tomorrow and Sunday and a bit of work with (coach) Michael (Bannon) and try and clear a few things up.”
Running an eye over his new range of equipment, McIlory says that he is happy with his new Nike ball and wedges and that the putter was good on faster greens than he had faced in Abu Dhabi.
But he admits that his normally superb driving is not where he wants it to be and that his iron play “wasn't anywhere near the standard that it usually is for me”.
Fortunately he has four weeks out of competition to work on ironing out the flaws in his game before tackling the WGC World Matchplay tournament in Arizona.
That will be the real starting point for his preparations for the year's first major, The Masters, in early April at Augusta National.
“You really want to get off to a nice start to the season, but I've got to realise that it is only the start of the season and there's a lot of work to be done, a lot of golf left,” he said.
“And I said to the guys yesterday on the way back, as long as I feel like my game is in good shape heading into Augusta, that's all I'm worried about.” – Sapa-AFP