IT WAS A case of back to the drawing board, or at least back to the driving range, for Rory McIlroy today as his first outing with his new Nike clubs, ended in frustration.
The world No 1 announced the switch from long-time sponsors Titleist to Nike in a mega-money 10-year deal on Monday despite warnings from some quarters that the change of clubs that entailed could present him with problems.
McIlroy has been hard at work getting used to the new sticks over his winter break, but all that came to little avail as he struggled to a three over 75 in the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Double bogeys at the third and 15th were his undoing and the 23-year-old Northern Irishman looked perturbed at times as his usual pinpoint accuracy off the tee deserted him. But he insisted afterwards that it was not the clubs to blame, rather rustiness on his part after a near two-month break from competition.
“I was really happy with the way the ball is in the wind. Really happy with the irons, the wedge play. I wasn’t very comfortable off the tee, but just because I didn’t feel like I was swinging it that well.
“It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but it’s a case of going and working a little bit on the range this afternoon and hopefully going out tomorrow and playing a little bit better and making the weekend.”
All in all it has been a complicated return to action over the last week for McIlroy, who won five tournaments last year, including his second major at the USPGA, and consolidated his position as the world’s No.1 golfer.
In quick succession he was grilled over whether he would choose to play for Britain or Ireland at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, called on to take the spotlight during the announcement of the Nike deal and took a leading role in getting Paul McGinley named as Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain.
Enough to distract the most experienced of golfers, but McIlroy insisted that his poor form was just a by-product of having been out of competition for so long.
“Yeah, a bit of rust for sure,” he said. “Not playing any competitive golf for eight weeks. I guess when you’re going out with new stuff, you’re always going to be a little bit anxious about hitting it close like you’ve done on the range and today that wasn’t quite the case. Hopefully I can do that tomorrow.”