Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship: History says Rory McIlroy will start fast at Yas Links

How the big names feel about their prep for this week's DP World Tour 2022 opener and how they've performed in the first start of a new year over the past five campaigns.

Rory McIlroy has a remarkable record at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship but may just be happy to see the tournament move venues this year.

The four-time Major winner had banked eight top three finishes in his last nine starts at Abu Dhabi Golf Club although never managed to walk off with the trophy.

McIlroy was runner-up in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 while he posted third places in 2010, 2016, 2018 and 2021.

This year, after 16 editions at Abu Dhabi GC, McIlroy will have another crack but this time at new venue, Yas Links.

His rivals include Open champion Collin Morikawa and fellow Ryder Cup stars Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion Tyrrell Hatton.

It's always something of a guessing game when players are making their first starts after a break.

Did they put their clubs away over Christmas? Or have they been diligently practising away for most of the last month.

Here's what some of the top players said in the pre-tournament press conferences.

Rory McIlroy

"I've been playing well in practice. I've been practising well. I've done some good work over the really sort off-season that we had.

"But yeah, it feels good. It's nice to come out here and have these run of events be the first events of the year. It's perfect weather.

"There's not much I need to work on but there's a couple of key aspects, and I think if I can get them down early in the year, I could be in for a good season."

Tyrrell Hatton

"Certainly the back half of last year, I was doing no training. Wasn't that motivated to practise either. So there's a combination of things. It's not always plain sailing.

"So I flew out to Orlando on New Year's Eve and sort of tried to do a two-week boot camp of training and practise as well and tried to just get back into it, really. Find the motivation to go and do it.

"Training-wise has been good. Still struggle with how to practise, when I get there is just going through the motions. But that's a work-in-progress for sure.

"I much prefer playing than practising on the range. I've always said that. And I haven't really been out on the course a huge amount when I'm back home. So that's something that I probably need to get back into and try and find some enjoyment and a reason to go out there and do it, too."

Tommy Fleetwood

"I, for one, I never feel anywhere near full confidence when you get to this event just from the sheer lack of competition golf you've had.

Tommy Fleetwood in action

"I think experience tells you that you felt the same for the last few years and it's actually turned out all right a lot of the time.

"You never quite know what to expect. I always feel very aware that I haven't played a tournament for a while and you feel rusty."

Shane Lowry

"Every year you start, you want it to be your best year. I'm going have to do some pretty good things to make this my best year, and I'm excited at the challenge ahead.

"I think I really didn't enjoy my golf towards the end of last year. Played a lot of golf, probably played too much. Really enjoyed my time at The Ryder Cup, and then after that I probably should have taken a bit more of a break.

"I had a nice break there at Christmas. And I went back to Florida a couple weeks ago, and I was really excited to get back on the golf course and back practising again, which is a good sign for me. So excited for the year ahead."

Viktor Hovland

"Obviously couldn't have finished the year better than I did last year. I put the clubs away for a few weeks and started the year in Hawaii where I didn't have the best of prep and was pretty rusty.

"Starting to feel like I'm getting the rust off and feel like I'm getting the game back to where it was before the break."

How the top stars fare

Words are one thing but how have the above players fared in their first starts of a new calendar year?

Let's take a look at their finishing positions, starting with 2021 and going back to 2017.

Rory McIlroy: 3-3-4-3-2

Tyrrell Hatton: 1-6-MC-15-13

Tommy Fleetwood: 7-2-42-1-1

Shane Lowry: MC-2-1-MC-33

Viktor Hovland has already played in 2022, finishing 30th out of 38 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

So how did he fare on his second start of the year? He's played just three campaigns so those results are from 2021-2019.

Viktor Hovland: 2-23-40

Conclusion

The evidence suggests the top names will be a big factor this week. They often start a new year fast and three of the above - Hatton, Fleetwood and Lowry - have all started out with a win.

Perhaps after all his near misses, this is Rory's turn.

READ MORE: Collin Morikawa aiming to start defence of his Race to Dubai title with wins in Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Latest news