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January 24, 2018

Rory McIlroy

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Welcome back to Dubai. Maybe start us off with a quick assessment of last week.

RORY McILROY: All good. Obviously really happy with how everything went last week. If someone had said to me at the start of the week, you'd shoot 18-under par your first week back on, I thought, quite a difficult golf course; the rough was up a little bit and maybe some of the greens were soft, tricky conditions on Sunday, I would have thought 18-under par would have a great chance to win.

No complaints about last week. If anything, I could have maybe driven it a little straighter on last day and given myself some more shots from the fairways to attack some pins, but really happy with how everything went and looking forward to getting back out there this week. Even though you tried to lead me astray last night.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Very expensive wine. Talk about coming to the Emirates Golf Club, a place you really, really love.

RORY McILROY: I have a lot of good memories here at the Majelis Course, first win. Been playing here, played as an amateur in 2007 and I remember after that week, I got to world No. 1 amateur.

Yeah, it's a lot of great memories. Won here twice. Dubai is a place that I've gotten to know very well. I've gotten to know a lot of the people very well here. You know, it's a place I love to come back to.

Yeah, looking forward to getting going again. I missed it last year and I missed having a chance to win and having a chance to compete. It's always one of the highlights of the year for me to come and play here with the memories that I have. So yeah, looking forward to getting back out there on Thursday and trying to give myself another chance to win.

Q. The past two winners here have gone on to win the Masters. Do you think that's a coincidence, or do you think there might be some sort of correlation to this as a barometer of bigger things?
RORY McILROY: It's definitely a coincidence. Yeah, it's a coincidence. I wouldn't read anything into it. But it is great that Danny and Sergio went on to do something very special a couple of events after winning here. So try to keep the run going. Yeah, I don't think you can read too much into that.

Q. Would you say in Abu Dhabi, it was above expectations for you, and if, so does that change your expectations for this week?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it was above expectations for me to be honest. I thought if I could have shot four rounds under par and just saw some good, positive signs in my game, I would have went away happy, played four rounds and felt no ill effects of the week.

So yeah, I did exceed expectations. I guess that has changed the way I view this week a little bit because of how I played last week. I know that my game is in good enough shape to contend and try to win.

Yeah, a little more, I don't know, I feel like I've got a bit of a spring back in in my step because of what happened last week and very confident in myself. Again, it's a golf course I know how to get around and I know how to shoot good scores on. Looking forward to that, yeah.

Q. You praised Tommy, obviously rightly, on Sunday. Having seen him up close last week, what specifically is it about his game that impresses you so much that he's got that maybe he didn't have before, dare I say.
RORY McILROY: Yeah, first I'm I played with Tommy was in Shanghai of all places back in 2013 I think. At that point, he hit everything right-to-left and playing with him the last couple years, he's definitely been able to sort of switch his ball flight up and hit it both ways. That's a huge asset to have out here, getting to different pin positions and being able to be comfortable off different tee shots, and so being able to hit both ways is something he's worked hard on the past couple years and that's helped him a lot.

And I think he's improved a lot as a putter, as well. He's went with a claw grip now for the last couple years, and just looking at amount of putts he had on the back nine on Sunday. He's become a very, very good putter. I think those are two aspects of his game he's improved a lot.

Q. And to stay at this level, and, dare I say, win major championships, is that a bigger mental challenge for someone like that or a technical one?
RORY McILROY: It's more mental. He's got all the technical ability in the world; and a hundred people out here have the technical ability to win major championships. But it's about mentally where you're at and how you hold yourself together in those situations. That's what it all comes down to at the end of the day.

So that's the real question is when he puts himself in that position; and I think I know better than most people, you need to lose some before you can ultimately win them. You need to put yourself through those experiences, and every time you get an experience like that, it makes you better the next time. It makes you better equipped to handle it. It's just all about putting yourself in there and in that position and learning as much from it as you can.

Q. You played with Rayhan yesterday. We also read you're taking part in Nick Faldo's initial of the Major Champion's Invitational. How much do you enjoy that part of the game, the growing the game aspect --
RORY McILROY: Did you not hear my interview at Troon a couple years ago -- (laughter) no, I'm joking.

I enjoy it because I don't feel like I'm that far removed from where Rayhan was, for example, or from where these kids are that are going to play in the Nick Faldo Invitational.

I know how much it benefitted me, for example, to go play a practise round with Darren Clarke out here when I was 16 or 17; or being part of Team Faldo when I was growing up and getting little insights from Nick here and there. He took us to California for ten days every winter and we were able to practise; and it was myself and Oli Fisher and a few of the other top sort of juniors in the U.K. and Ireland.

I still remember those days very fondly and I feel like I got a lot out of them. So I'm now in a position where if I can maybe help in some way or do something, then I'm very happy to because I know how much it meant to me, and so that's why, for example, playing nine holes with Rayhan yesterday or sending a team to Orlando in March to play in this thing that Nick's doing, it's very easy for me to do.

I need to go play a practise round anyway, and if Rayhan wants to join me, that's totally fine, and it's the same thing with the tournament that Nick is hosting in Orlando. It's easy for me to get the kids flights to get out there and they are taken care of from there. I'm very happy to do that.

Q. Monty said yesterday that he believes European golf's on the cusp of another golden era. As one of the players that's led the way over the last decade, does that excite you that that is the case, with the likes of Jon Rahm and Tommy coming through to back you up in world events?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's a great time for European golf and it's a great time for world golf in general.

Yeah, I think with the talent that's coming through and quite young talent, at that; you look at Tommy just turned 27 last week, Jon Rahm is 23. You know, and then on the other side, you've got Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, all those guys that are in their sort of mid 20s. Golf is in a really good place right now, and it will be exciting to be a part of for me but also to watch, just as a fan of the game, as well.

Q. Just going back to Rayhan, where do you think his game is at right now? Is there anything specific he needs to do to reach the next level?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, he was very solid, quite consistent. He's got a very good swing. He does everything the right way. I know he works hard on his game. I've seen that from being out here and practising at the same place he does.

I think if I was to say anything about Rayhan's game, if he could get another ten yards off the tee, just get a little bit longer off the tee, it would help him just get to that next level. Because obviously going from playing amateur tournaments and golf courses to the pro game where you're regularly seeing golf courses now that are 7,500, 7,600 yards, length is a big asset to have, and you just get a little bit more length, which is easily, I feel, it's quite easy to do. I've put on quite a lot of length since I was that age until now. If he does it the right way, I think that would be a big add and a big asset for him to have.

Q. With Tiger's return tomorrow, the time difference might preclude you from watching it, but is it the sort of thing you turn on the phone and find out how he's done the next morning?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, definitely. I think everyone is intrigued to see. Even scrolling through Instagram this morning and seeing some of the clips from yesterday, seeing how he's swinging, seeing how he's moving; I think everyone wants to see how he gets on.

I did an interview just earlier where I said that Tiger, just having Tiger in the conversation in golf is huge. It's great for the game. It's better for the players. It creates more interest. It's better for you guys because there's more of a buzz about golf; people want it read about it.

It's great all around and hopefully his body let's him play a nice, consistent run of events for the next few years and we'll see where that gets him. But anyway, he's hungry to get back out there and play. Yeah, so it will be interesting to see.

Q. It's obviously early to think about it, but does your mind turn to the Masters now?
RORY McILROY: I think I've got seven events from now until the Masters, so I'm sort of taking it week-by-week at this point. Once April starts, I'll start to think about Augusta, or the end of March, or whatever, the first time I go up there and play a couple of practise rounds before the tournament.

Right now it's just about getting myself in a nice bit of form and playing tournaments and playing well and so no, I'm not really thinking about that right now.

But yeah, you know, come March time, April time, I'll turn my attention to it and start to focus on maybe shots that I need or different clubs I might need in my bag or whatever it is. Right now my focus is on the Dubai Desert Classic and trying to win here for the third time.

Q. You said in the buildup to Abu Dhabi, it was nice to be playing pain-free again. Has there been anything at all since Sunday in Abu Dhabi?
RORY McILROY: Yeah, everything's fine. Just normal bit of stiffness that you would get after a week of golf, and more three weeks. I came here on the fifth of January and basically didn't have a day off until Monday. I took the day off on Monday to sort of chill out and take it easy and spend a couple hours at the beach. I was looking forward to it. It was nice to get just that one day off just so that my body can calm down a little bit.

But no, I feel good. Played yesterday, practiced yesterday. Felt good. Feel good again today. There's no reason to think that my body won't hold up to tournament golf all this year. But I'm just making sure that everything's right. I'm making sure I'm getting daily treatment with physios and doing my stretches and doing everything that I possibly can to make sure that I'm injury-free.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: As always, many thanks.

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