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Tiger-tough Rory McIlroy has strength to overcome any obstacle

By Karl MacGinty

Official confirmation that Rory McIlroy will play the Dubai Desert Classic hardly raised a ripple of interest either in mainline or social media. McIlroy is, after all, a brand ambassador for the event's title sponsor, Omega.

Yet the fact that he's willing and feels perfectly able to play in a tournament which concludes on Sunday, February 1, less than 48 hours before McIlroy's case against his former management company goes to trial in Dublin's Commercial Court, offers fascinating insight into the strength of his psyche.

The witness box must be one of the most intimidating places on earth. Especially with tens of millions of pounds at stake, as is the case with McIlroy's suit and the counter-claims pursued by his former agents.

Could it be any more lonely, however, than the first tee on Friday at the Ryder Cup?

Or as mentally exacting as playing the final hole in advancing darkness late on Sunday evening at the US PGA with a Major title on the line, as McIlroy did at Valhalla last August?

The courtroom is far removed from McIlroy's natural habitat but one wonders if the lust he, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and golf's other elite performers plainly show for the smell of psychological cordite on the world stage sets them apart from the rest of us.

Ordinary mortals would be hugely distracted by the prospect of six weeks or more in the High Court but it'll probably be business as usual for McIlroy the week after next as he pursues a second Dubai Desert Classic victory on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Club.

As he suggested by winning the BMW PGA at Wentworth last May, days after sparking media conflagration by calling off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki, nothing intrudes on McIlroy's psyche on the golf course.

Should legal proceedings run their full course, that theory may be tested by several days of cross-examination. One suspects, however, that McIlroy's prospects of completing his career Grand Slam at April's US Masters are unlikely to rest on the judge's verdict, whatever it may be.

McIlroy's 2015 campaign opens in earnest on Thursday when he tees it up in the first round of the HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Given his exemplary record around this demanding course, the Holywood star is a justifiable short-odds favourite.

Though he played fewest strokes in Abu Dhabi last year, McIlroy tied second with Mickelson, one behind Pablo Larrazabal (pictured).

A two-shot penalty on Saturday for failing to take free relief far enough away from a fan crosswalk made the difference.

This was his third runner-up finish here in four years and fifth top-five since his first appearance in 2009. He's a whopping 80-under par for 26 rounds played.

McIlroy's solitary missed cut two years ago was blamed on teething troubles with new equipment, exacerbated by his failure to invest enough time bedding in those Nike clubs over the winter after his knockout climax to 2012.

It was interesting at Christmas to note US 'Rookie of the Year' Chesson Hadley's remark on Twitter: "Gotta love golf to be practising today (in 39 degrees Fahrenheit). I bet Rory's grinding so I have to be as well."

In fact, McIlroy took a complete break, only resuming practice in Dubai eight days ago after spending the festive season at home in Holywood. "First couple of swings after four weeks without touching a club were interesting," he quipped.

Blessed with complete confidence in his equipment, it will come as no surprise if McIlroy, now completely refreshed, quickly recovers the form which saw him complete his final 10 events of 2014 in 109 under par.

After his spectacular hat-trick at The Open, Bridgestone and US PGA, McIlroy had five other top-10s, including second place finishes at the Tour Championship, Dunhill Links and DP World Championship.

Taking into account the leadership role he assumed at September's Ryder Cup, McIlroy's ability to defy fatigue suggests he's now Tiger-tough and capable of overcoming any obstacle.

Belfast Telegraph

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