Rory McIlroy set to shine in desert storm
Just eight years have passed since Rory McIlroy, then only 16, borrowed a photographer's camera and impishly snuck inside the ropes for a close-up view of his idol Tiger Woods in action at the 2006 Dubai Desert Classic.
Early this morning McIlroy – already a two-time Major champion at 24, master of his own affairs after last year's contentious break-up with management company Horizon, and recently engaged to Danish tennis ace Caroline Wozniacki – was very much 'the man' as he shook hands with Tiger on the 10th tee at the Majlis Course.
While lawsuits have been filed by both sides in the acrimonious dispute between the golfer and his former agents yet, McIlroy could hardly appear more content with life on and off the course.
"Getting engaged to Caroline has been fantastic," the Holywood native enthused earlier this week.
His relationship with golf appears just as blissful once again after a long rocky stretch in 2013, when his faith, hope and patience were stretched to breaking point.
Yet dark days, like McIlroy's mid-round walk-off on Friday at the Honda Classic, his club-mangling frustration on Sunday at the US Open, or his head-spinning performance in the first two rounds of July's Open at Muirfield, are history.
His frustration salved by December's victory at the Australian Open in Sydney and any remaining self-doubt dispelled by a splendid ball-striking performance as he tied second in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, McIlroy is very, very close to his imperious best.
There are few better places than the Majlis Course here at the Emirates Club for McIlroy to complete his redemption.
By all accounts, he's been striping the ball this week on a layout which might have been hand-crafted to fit his game.
McIlroy has put down several career milestones in Dubai.
He missed the cut but enjoyed that first close, on-course encounter of with Tiger in 2006, made the weekend for the first time in a European Tour event the following year, then clinched his maiden victory as a professional in 2009.
Inevitably, McIlroy was asked yesterday what's changed most for him, "other than the hair", in the five years since that win.
"I guess my physique, a little bit," he replied.
"I'm more experienced, more sure of myself, more confident.
"Obviously a lot of things have changed in five years but, in essence, I'm still the same person that was sitting here on that Sunday night with the big coffee pot (the distinctive Desert Classic trophy) next to me."
* THE Maguire twins, Lisa and Leona, have opted for a golf scholarship at Duke University in North Carolina instead of pursuing a professional career.