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Mature Rory McIlroy still doesn’t buy into Tiger Woods aura

When Rory McIlroy first competed in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic he was so excited he helped carry a photographer's long lens and proceeded to walk 18 holes inside the ropes just to get a closer look at Tiger Woods.

That was five years ago when he was afforded a sponsor's invitation to compete in the UAE.

Woods went on to capture the first of his two Dubai victories with McIlroy missing the half way cut with a pair of 72s.

But when McIlroy finished as leading amateur in 2007, there was the boyish disappointment of not sharing the prize-giving stage with Woods who finished third and was not a part of the victory ceremony.

McIlroy returns this year as the 2009 Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion, and already a veteran of three full seasons as a professional.

“It was a pretty exciting week for me when I first played here in Dubai and I remember the buzz I got getting inside the ropes that week and seeing Tiger up close for a first time,” said McIlroy.

“But whether or not it's because I am a professional golfer now, and also maybe because I've spent a bit of time with him, but back then it felt like a huge deal.

“Nowadays it's all about becoming a more mature and experienced golfer, and that comes from just playing tournaments. But then I still enjoy watching Tiger play on TV. He's still Tiger Woods.

“Besides since I've been on the Tour, I've never seen him dominate and I have never played in tournaments where he dominated.

“So I never felt that aura, so much so that, when I speak to him, he's just Tiger. He's just one of the guys,” he explained.

McIlroy finds himself on the opposite side of the opening two-round draw as Woods, with the Ulsterman early-late and Woods late-early.

The last time McIlroy was in the UAE he finished a distant eight shots behind Germany's Martin Kaymer, who moved to number two in the world on the back of his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship success.

The bad news for McIlroy is that Kaymer is again in the field, as well as world number one Lee Westwood. In his two weeks off since Abu Dhabi, McIlroy has been working on his strategy to find his way back to Sunday's prize-giving ceremony.

He said: “Basically, I am just thinking more about playing away from the pins and knowing when it's a good time to be aggressive and when it's a good time to go for the middle of the green.”

McIlroy heads a field of six Irish players including Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley who will be playing partners for the opening two days. Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin has ended a two-week break to compete.

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