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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Rory McIlroy playing more in 2014

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- After a turbulent 2013 season that saw Rory McIlroy fall out of the top spot in the world rankings, the Northern Irishman appears to be increasing his playing schedule early this year.

By playing this week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy already is slated to tee it up in one more event prior to the Masters than he did last year. He hinted that he might add one more tournament before heading down Magnolia Lane at Augusta National in early April.

"Whether there's one more in there, I'm not too sure yet,'' said McIlroy, a previous winner in Dubai.

Although he didn't confirm his schedule, the 24-year-old McIlroy said he expected to play the WGC-Accenture Match Play, the Honda Classic, the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Shell Houston Open on the PGA Tour, which all precede the Masters.

McIlroy had been criticized by many for not playing more events early in the season last year after he switched to new clubs and balls.

This week, the world No. 6 is playing the first two rounds in the Desert Classic with Tiger Woods and defending champion Stephen Gallacher. The tournament is celebrating its 25th anniversary, which makes the European Tour event older -- if by a few months -- than McIlroy, who is here to take part in the festivities at Emirates Golf Club.

McIlroy is among a group of 20 past champions who have convened for the tournament, the Middle East's original tour stop that was won by Englishman Mark James in 1989.

It is also a bit of a special place for McIlroy, who captured his first professional title at this tournament in 2009 when he was just 19.

"It has always been a tournament that I've liked to come play,'' he said. "I played twice as an amateur here in '06 and '07, so the tournament [was] very good to me giving me those invites, and it was sort of fitting in a way that I won my first tournament here as a pro.

"Obviously whenever you come back to a place where you've got a win like that, you're going to have special memories and fond memories. It's nice to come back. I sort of missed it last year.''

That's when McIlroy was in the midst of a month-long break that ultimately became a subject of conversation because of his lackluster start to the season.

That is not the case in 2014.

After winning his last event of 2013 by defeating Adam Scott at the Australian Open, McIlroy tied for second two weeks ago at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship -- where a 2-stroke penalty for an improper drop during the second round ultimately cost him a shot at victory.

Still, it was an encouraging start to the year as McIlroy has spent most of the past month -- and plans to stick around next week -- honing his game in the U.A.E.

"It was good to get the win and build some momentum into the year and feel like I've carried it through,'' McIlroy said. "I had a great offseason, practiced, played a lot, didn't really take too much time off. It feels good.''