McIlroy backed to shine in Dubai

Rory McIlroy is hoping to continue his momentum at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week.

McIlroy finished joint second in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, losing out by a single stroke to Spain's Pablo Larrazabal after suffering a two-shot penalty in the third round.

That was one of the Northern Irishman's five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts, a run which includes his dramatic victory over Masters champion Adam Scott in the Australian Open.

The 24-year-old can also boast four consecutive top-10 finishes in Dubai since claiming his maiden European Tour title in 2009 at Emirates Golf Club, where he will partner Woods and defending champion Stephen Gallacher in the first two rounds.

Woods began his 2014 campaign in the Farmers Insurance Open last week, but carded a third round of 79 at Torrey Pines - a venue where he has won eight times - to miss the unusual 54-hole cut.

The world number one is seeking a hat-trick of victories in Dubai but is rated second favourite behind McIlroy, who has been working hard on his short game for 10 days since Abu Dhabi.

"I'm playing well," the world number six said. "I played well in Abu Dhabi and feel like my game has come on a little bit since then as well, with the wedge play and stuff. I feel good driving the ball well, which is a big key for me, so hopefully I can keep that up.

"It's always good to get a win early on in the season, and it would be nice to be up there at least and challenging for the trophy on Sunday."

Speaking at a pre-tournament press conference, McIlroy acknowledged the impact of his win in Australia at the start of December, his sole victory in 2013 after five wins worldwide in 2012, including a second major title in the US PGA Championship.

"It was really important," he added. "I felt like I had been playing well up until that point. I was showing some good form, played well in China, played well in Korea, played well in Dubai, but just didn't quite get the win.

"I didn't think a win was necessary because I felt like my game was coming back into the shape that I wanted it to, but getting the win down there was very nice, very satisfying. It was great to end the year with a win.

"For the last few months of 2013, it was all about just trying to build some momentum going into this year, and I feel like I've done that."