ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy is looking forward to actually playing golf again after the buzz of his multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal and the selection of European Ryder Cup captain.
The world’s top-ranked golfer and PGA Championship winner leads a star-studded field at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship that includes No. 2 Tiger Woods, No. 5 Justin Rose, British Open champion Ernie Els and Martin Kaymer.
McIlroy signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike this week and led the charge for Paul McGinley in his successful campaign to become Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup captain.
Now he’s looking forward to getting his year off to a strong start at the National Course, where he has repeatedly come up short against Kaymer, a three-time winner here.
“It’s a place I have done well. I think one problem for me the last few years has been Martin Kaymer. He’s played really well around here and won it a couple of times, three times I think, and I always came up second best,” said McIlroy, who is coming off a season-ending victory at the Dubai World Championship as well as the European and PGA Tour money titles.
“It would be nice to go one better this week and obviously that’s what I’m aiming for, but it’s a great field and looks like the golf course is in great shape as well.”
Most of the questions to McIlroy this week have been about his new sponsorship deal – estimated to be worth up to $20 million a year– but he insisted his emergence as a mega-rich athlete would have no bearing on how he approaches 2013.
“I’m just concentrating on playing golf. You know, all the financial side and everything like that will take care of itself,” the 23-year-old Northern Irishman said.
“I’m in it to try and win trophies and they are worth more to me than any contract.”
The spotlight on McIlroy will be even bigger this week because he’s paired with Woods for the first two days, in a group that also includes Kaymer, giving fans another chance to see golf’s two biggest names go at it.
Is he ready to challenge McIlroy for the No. 1 ranking? Woods said for now, he’s just concerned with winning.
“The rankings take care of themselves by winning golf tournaments,” Woods said. “I was at one point, what was I, outside the top 50 or whatever it was. But I won three times last year and lo and behold, look where I’m at. It’s about winning golf tournaments and being consistent.”
HUMANA CHALLENGE: Phil Mickelson kept about as low profile as possible on the eve of his season opener in La Quinta, Calif.
Fighting flu-like symptoms for more than a week, the 42-year-old Mickelson registered for the PGA Tour event on Wednesday, but didn’t play or practice at La Quinta Country Club – the site of his first round today.
The left-hander is making his first start since tying for second in November in the HSBC Champions in China, the only event he played after the Ryder Cup.