Rory McIlroy blamed two bad swings and a change of equipment as his thrilling bid for an unlikely Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship victory unravelled.
After scrambling into the weekend by making the cut bang on the number at three-over, McIlroy somehow managed to claw his way into a share of second place at eight-under with five holes to play.
His charge featured a dramatic eagle at the par-4 ninth, where he holed a 141-yard wedge shot from the semi-rough, followed by a 347-yard drive that pulled up just short of the par-4 10th, and led to a two-putt birdie.
McIlroy was flying at that stage, brushing aside a missed seven-footer at the par-5 11th by holing a long-range birdie effort on the 12th and picking up another shot on the par-3 13th after caressing his tee shot into about six feet.
But a wild drive on the 14th led to a momentum-stopping bogey, and the former World No. 1 frittered away further shots on the 17th and the final hole, where he snap-hooked his new three-iron into the water as he tried to reach the green from 279 yards.
McIlroy was clearly annoyed by that frustrating finish, which meant he had to settle for a closing 69 that left him five-under for the week. But he chose to concentrate on the positives from that six-under-par burst through the opening 13 holes.
He said: “I wish I could have that tee shot at 14 and the second at the last back. Two bad swings on those holes really cost me. But it was still an eight-under-par weekend that could easily have been quite a bit better.
“My target was a 64 because I felt if I was in the clubhouse at 10-under it would give the guys out on the course something to think about. And when you hole out for an eagle and follow up with three quick birdies, you think that sort of number is on. But obviously it got away from me a bit after that.
“But I really was so pleased to make the cut and play a couple more competitive rounds with a card in my hand. I think I’ve blown away quite a bit of the rust from the winter break heading into the Desert Classic in Dubai.”
Making his first competitive start of 2022, McIlroy arrived in Abu Dhabi with some new equipment in the bag, most notably at the top-end. And while he was satisfied overall, the 32-year-old admitted some fine-tuning is required ahead of next week’s DP World Tour event.
He added: “Coming into the new season you’ve got new equipment so there’s always a couple of kinks to work out here and there. I put the three-iron in the bag a couple of weeks ago and that cost three shots on the first day and then my three-wood today.
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“I’m not blaming the equipment but I knew there was a bit of a left in it and it shows its head on 14 and 18 today, so I’ll work on that a little bit. They also weren’t great swings so I’ll work on that.
“Apart from that I thought the driver was good, the irons were pretty good for the most part so hopefully get to Dubai with some favourable conditions. I don’t feel like I’ve hit a full-blooded iron shot in the last couple of days; they’ve all been knock-downs. Some calmer weather would be nice going into next week.
“That [Dubai] is where I recorded my first win back in 2009, and I won there again in 2015. I’ve also gone close on a couple of occasions so it’s a place I’m very fond of, and one where I can draw on a lot of great memories.”
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