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Rory McIlroy is targeting ‘six of the best’ as he enters the new season high on confidence on the back of a strong end to last year, with the key to achieving that to take a page from the ‘Tiger Woods playbook’ and opt for precision over power in the big moments.
McIlroy says he felt he "turned the corner" after the Ryder Cup last year, with an impressive win over Collin Morikawa at the CJ Cup before he surrendered a 54-hole lead to the Open champion in the DP World Tour Championship.
The way McIlroy tore his shirt off in frustration – after a tear-stained reaction to his Ryder Cup singles win – shows just how much the game still means to him. And he admitted he spent the flight from his Florida home to the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship mulling over his ambitions for the new year.
Flying by private jet means he no longer writes those goals down on his boarding pass – he still keeps those in a journal though – but he has an ambitious year in mind.
He said: "You've got to reset and aim high, so I suppose one thing I’d like to achieve is a six-win season. That's something I've never managed – five is my best to date. I used to sit down on the flight to this tournament and write down things like: 'I want to win five times; I want to win a Major; I want to win The Race to Dubai; I want to win the FedExCup; I want to do this or that.’
"And, of course, I still want to do all those things. Those things are great goals, and they are things to try to work towards. But I think the biggest thing for guys at the level that we're at is to set goals you can achieve, regardless of whether other guys have the best week of their lives.
"That could be saying I want to hit over 60 per cent of my fairways. With how far I hit it, finding that many fairways could be a big thing for my game. That may mean throttling back and hitting 3-wood a little more often or hitting clubs that are maybe not as aggressive off tees and just putting yourself in the fairway. Maybe just being a little bit more of a measured and a controlled golfer.
"I'll certainly pick and choose my spots where I can take advantage of the driver and hit it. But the best player of the last 30 years, Tiger, would pick and choose where he hit the driver. He played a very, very controlled game, and it didn't work out too badly for him!
"I'm not saying that my game compares to his in any way. But there are certainly aspects of what he did so well in the past that I would obviously love to put into my game. And I want my proximity inside 150 yards to be a certain number. I want my strokes gained in putting to be a certain number.
"I think having goals that I'm more in control of is the key. I can't necessarily control if I win five or six times a year, because there's so many other variables in there. But I can certainly control my strokes gained numbers, my strive to ensure my stats are better than they were the year before."
However, McIlroy added he would not get too wound up if his goals proved elusive, as getting married and becoming a dad have helped change his perspective on what is most important.
He explained: "I remember when I first got to world No1, I thought, is that it? I kind of expected to feel like a different person, but it didn't happen.
"And having a cabinet full of trophies doesn't count for a lot at home. You still have to take the garbage out and fill the dishwasher, and do all that sort of stuff.
"You still strive to achieve your goals, and they are important. But I think towards the end of last year one of the things I've done better than I have for a while was in finding the joy in golf again. That's when you hit the sweet spot; when you play for the sheer pleasure of it.
"There are a few more grey hairs than when I first played in Abu Dhabi in 2008. But I'm as excited as ever to be starting a new campaign – just as pumped for my 16th as I was for my first."
David brings a wealth of experience to Golf Monthly as a freelance contributor having spent more than two decades covering the game as The Sun's golf correspondent. Prior to that, he worked as a sports reporter for the Daily Mail. David has covered the last 12 Ryder Cups and every Masters tournament since 1999. A popular and highly-respected name in the press tents around the world, David has built close relationships with many of the game's leading players and officials.