McIlroy goes into weekend with lead in Dubai

BY foxsports • February 11, 2011

After introducing a measure of patience to his game, Rory McIlroy is in contention to win his second Dubai Desert Classic title in three years.

The 21-year-old from Northern Ireland credits his second-place finish at the Abu Dhabi Championship last month and the lead at the midway point in Dubai on Friday to a new approach he developed during the offseason. He has a one-shot lead over Spaniard Sergio Garcia and South African Thomas Aiken while Tiger Woods is four shots back, and No. 1-ranked Lee Westwood and No. 2 Martin Kaymer further adrift.

McIlroy first recognized that his traditionally aggressive approach was hurting his game at the Chevron World Challenge in December, when miscues in the second round dropped him out of contention. He finished fourth at the Tiger Woods-hosted tournament.

''I realized at the end of last year, walking away from Tiger's tournament, Chevron, if I had just played smart and made some good decisions, I could have won that thing easily,'' McIlroy said. ''I felt like that most of last year. I felt like I was playing a lot better.''

In the off-season, McIlroy said he worked on managing his game, a process that has included tweaking his swing, analyzing his statistics more closely and ''trying to develop into a more mature golfer.''

It showed on Friday when he didn't allow early struggles to get him down and then refrained from trying to reach the green on the par-5, 18th in two. He still managed a solid approach shot and a 15-foot putt for a birdie that put him into sole possession of first place at 10-under 133.

''Maybe I could have gotten there. It was only 250 yards to the front but there is no point,'' McIlroy said. ''There's still 36 holes left in this golf tournament and I realized that I could take my chances with a wedge.

''Set up a nice birdie ... Yeah, I mean maybe this time last year, I might have went for it, trying to make a big 3 or whatever. But I'll take a birdie and, yeah, just very happy with how I stayed really patient out there.''

McIlroy said the key to his strong performance thus far in Dubai was his driving and that he didn't allow average play - five pars and a bogey on his first six holes - to get him down.

He said his game took off after he strung together two birdies on the final three holes of the front nine and saved par on 10 and 11 with clutch putting.

''It was a nice to sort of get over that and then hit a good putt on 11 and then probably birdie the toughest hole of the day which was the 12th,'' he said. ''So you know, that's where I made up for it, and sort of got me going again.''

Since he stunned the golfing world with a closing 62 to win at Quail Hollow in 2010, much has been expected from the curly haired McIlroy.

However, he struggled for much of last year and never finished better than third on a European Tour event.

But with his game on the upswing this year, McIlroy said he feels his current form could put him in contention to win his first major - though he insisted his focus this weekend was winning in Dubai.

''If I played at Augusta, say like the way I played over the last two days, there's no reason why I couldn't be in with a shot there,'' he said. ''But you know, as I said, all I'm trying to do is focus on the process of going out there, thinking about it a little more, hitting good shots and I if I can do that in the majors, then I feel like it will give me a good chance to win.''

McIlroy, who caught flak at the Ryder Cup for saying he would love to play Woods if his game didn't improve, said the thought of playing with the American Sunday thrilled him.

''It will be a little different,'' he said. ''I've never experienced being in contention with Tiger up around the top of the leaderboard. So I don't know what will happen. But it's a challenge that I'd look forward to and hopefully I can play well enough to just have a chance to win this thing going into the back nine Sunday.''

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