Rory McIlroy is happy the weather is not the only thing that is completely different in this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
McIlroy was the world number one 12 months ago when he followed a missed cut in Abu Dhabi - his first event with his expensive new Nike equipment - with a first-round defeat to fellow Irishman Shane Lowry, in a match delayed 24 hours by heavy snow at Dove Mountain.
It marked the start of a largely miserable 2013 for McIlroy, who struggled on the course and found himself involved in legal battles off it, before a late-season rally culminated in his only win of the year at the Australian Open in December.
“It’s much more settled, I can just go about my business and play my golf,” McIlroy told a pre-tournament press conference.
“Everything is in a good place, the game is in good shape I feel.
“Compared to this time last year, it’s so different. I don’t have to go through any changes in equipment, don’t have to answer the questions. It’s also nice to be wearing a t-shirt, not have to wear any sweaters or mittens.”
Rated a 14/1 favourite to win a first World Golf Championships title and the £915,000 first prize, McIlroy has shown some good form in 2014, finishing second in Abu Dhabi after a costly two-shot penalty for taking an improper drop in the third round, as well as a top-10 finish in the Dubai Desert Classic.
However, the two-time major winner flattered to deceive somewhat in Dubai, following a stunning opening 63 with rounds of 70, 69 and 74, slipping from second place to ninth in the final round.
“I haven’t hit the ball as well for a long time,” he added. “It’s been a good start to the season. I have two events under my belt and had a chance to win both of them.
“I was a little disappointed with how I putted at the weekend in Dubai but have spent two days with (putting coach) Dave Stockton here and it was nice to catch up with him and have him take a look at it. He doesn’t have to tell me much, just a slight grip change.”
The 24-year-old comes into this year’s event ranked seventh in the world, although he is the top seed in the Ben Hogan bracket thanks to the withdrawals of Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, and faces former US Ryder Cup player Boo Weekley in the opening round on Wednesday.
Victory over Weekley could set up a clash with Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood in the second round - Westwood faces rising star Harris English - with 10 of Europe’s heroes from the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in the 64-man field.
Graeme McDowell has a tough battle ahead against big hitting US star Gary Woodland.