Rory McIlroy reacts while playing at the BMW Championshipin Illinois in September. Photo: EPA/TANNEN MAURY

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - Rory McIlroy expressed confidence Tuesday that he would soon rediscover his winning touch ahead of his return to competitive golf in this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, following 100 days of forced absence and off-season break.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion and a former world No1 who has slipped to 11, endured an injury-ravaged 2017 after a stress fracture of a rib in his opening event of the year. He was also diagnosed with a minor heart ailment and did not play any tournament after the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the first week of October.

"I’m excited to be back at a golf tournament. It’s been a while. You know, the last few months have been really nice just to concentrate on a few things I needed to take care of in terms of getting myself fit and healthy to come back and sharpen up a few things in my game," said McIlroy, who said he lost two kilos since October after changing his diet, while at the same time adding more muscle mass.

"Obviously, this is the first real test of getting back and seeing how I am. So I’m looking forward to just getting out there and seeing how I perform when I need to.

"It’s a place I’ve done well before and obviously a golf course I know well, so it’s a comfortable place to come back and make a fresh start of the year."

McIlroy, who spent a week on a road-trip in Italy with his wife Erica in a 1950 convertible Mercedes in October, said he started getting back into his routine from late November and feels his game is in a good position to contend after 10 days of intensive practice in Dubai in the New Year.

"I’d love to win again. I don’t think there's any better feeling than winning a golf tournament. But I don’t feel like it’s that far away," said McIlroy, whose last win was at the 2016 Tour Championship in Atlanta.

"I’ve practised and I’ve played… not competitively in a proper tournament, but I’ve shot some really good scores over the past few weeks. Obviously, it’s different doing that to being out here on Thursday and really having a card in your hand.

"But from everything that I’ve seen in practice and playing over the past few weeks, there’s no reason to think that it's that far away."

McIlroy said the time off also gave him a chance to reflect on certain things that he had been doing on the golf course, and said he'd definitely make one change this year.

"There’s been a few different things I have been thinking, like I’m going to try to get to golf tournaments a bit earlier again," said McIlroy.

"So I came here and played nine holes on Monday. I had obviously gotten to know a lot of the golf courses I played, but I’d turn up on Tuesday afternoon, hit a few balls, play the Pro-Am and go. I felt like being able to practice at home on Mondays and Tuesday mornings was a better use of my time.

"But looking back on it, I’m going to try to get to golf tournaments a little bit earlier again. It just gives you an extra day to prepare on the course, get used to green speeds, rough lengths, firmness of everything, all that different stuff, because each week the golf course changes quite a bit."

Reigning European No1 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion in the $3 million tournament, which also features world No1 Dustin Johnson of the US, No6 Justin Rose of England and No9 Henrik Stenson of Sweden.

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