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McIlroy keen to go head-to-head with Woods in a major

Rory McIlroy has not given up hope of achieving a lifelong ambition of going head-to-head with Tiger Woods in the closing stages of a major championship.

Woods won the last of his 14 majors in 2008, the year after McIlroy turned professional, but has been plagued by injuries and off-course problems since revelations about his personal life the following year.

The 40-year-old has not been a factor in any of McIlroy's four major victories to date, missing the 2011 U.S. Open through injury, finishing 69th in the 2014 Open Championship and missing the cut in the U.S. PGA a month later. Woods did finish 11th in the 2012 U.S. PGA, albeit a distant 11 shots adrift of McIlroy.

Woods is currently sidelined after undergoing a third back operation in the space of 19 months in October, but although the odds are against it, McIlroy would love to battle the former world No.1 on the biggest stage.

"Hopefully if he can get healthy, I would still love to have a crack at him down the stretch in a major," said the world No.2, who moved above Jason Day in the rankings after the U.S. PGA champion missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open last week.

"I would love that, just once. At this point it's just up to him to get healthy and get his game back, and if I hopefully keep playing the way I'm playing, maybe one day it'll happen."

Before then, McIlroy has the small matter of defending his title in this week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic to worry about, with a third victory the only acceptable outcome.

The 26-year-old claimed his first European Tour title at the Emirates Golf Club in 2009 and has also twice won the DP World Tour Championship a few miles away at Jumeirah Golf Estates, including to seal the Race to Dubai title last November.

"Leaving here with anything short of a win would be disappointing, of course it would," said McIlroy, who is a combined 81 under par for his last six appearances in this event.

"Leaving any tournament without a win is sort of disappointing, but you try to put a positive spin on it.

"I think golfers, that's what we usually do. We are disappointed for a bit and then we try to put positive spins on it, and the nice thing is there's always a next week in golf.

"I'm sort of going for three in a row in Dubai with winning here last year and then winning the DP World Tour Championship at the end of last season, so it seems to bring out my best golf.

"This is my 10th year here -- I played twice as an amateur -- so I've got a lot of great memories and I get a lot of support here.

"There are a couple of little things that I took from Abu Dhabi [where he finished third] and worked on last week. So hopefully you'll see my game just a little bit sharper and I'll be trying to win for the third time to join Ernie Els as the only people to win three times."