McIlroy's expectations on the rise ahead of Dubai tournament

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A few days after finishing tied for third in his comeback tournament, Rory McIlroy's expectations are on the rise.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman ended his injury-plagued 2017 season early, but he shot 18-under last week and finished only four shots behind champion Tommy Fleetwood at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy has a busy schedule ahead of the Masters, and next up is the Dubai Desert Classic. He is a two-time champion at the tournament, with his first win in 2009 also being his first professional win.

"No complaints about last week," McIlroy said. "If anything, I could have driven it a little straighter on the last day and given myself some more shots from the fairways to attack some pins, but really happy with how everything went and looking forward to getting back out there this week."

McIlroy said he exceeded his expectations in Abu Dhabi and found some positive signs in his game.

"I know that my game is in good enough shape to contend and try to win," he said. "I feel like I've got a bit of a spring back in in my step because of what happened last week and very confident in myself."

McIlroy will be up against a quality field as he attempts to become only the second three-time champion after Ernie Els. Masters champion Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Pat Perez and Fleetwood are also playing at the oldest golf tournament in the Middle East.

Garcia, the defending champion, is coming off a win at the Singapore Open on the Asian Tour, a remarkable start considering he was playing with new Callaway equipment and ball after switching over from TaylorMade at the end of last year.

"To be totally honest, no, it hasn't been difficult. Callaway has amazing equipment. So that makes it easy," Garcia said. "When you like what you see when you look down, you know, it obviously helps."

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