Rory McIlroy: Northern Irishman aims to be number one again by end of January

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Rory McIlroy: Northern Irishman says he can be world number one again by end of January

Rory McIlroy is aiming to regain the world number one spot from Jason Day before the end of January.

McIlroy, a close second behind Day in the rankings, tees up in the South African Open on Thursday and plays in the Abu Dhabi Championship next week.

"If I play well this week, I have a chance going to Abu Dhabi to regain the number one spot," said McIlroy, 27.

McIlroy is playing in Johannesburg as a return favour to event host Ernie Els who teed up in the 2014 Irish Open.

Els extracted the commitment from the world number two when he played at Royal County Down three years ago in the tournament hosted by McIlroy's foundation.

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Rory McIlroy says his choice of clubs could be 'ever changing' in 2017

McIlroy to use mixed bag in Johannesburg

After Nike's decision to pull out of the clubs and balls market, McIlroy will be using a mixed bag of clubs this week and he has also switched to a Titleist ball.

"I've decided what to start the year with which is a bit of Callaway stuff and a bit of Titleist stuff although I'm still trying some Taylormade woods out.

"But I think the clubs thing could be an ever-changing process in 2017.

"I'm really happy with the new golf ball. It's basically a matter of fitting everything around the golf ball."

After disappointing major performances in 2016 which included missed cuts at the US Open and US PGA Championship, McIlroy will aim for a more relaxed approach in the game's four biggest events this season.

"I need to start majors better and maybe that will start by putting a little less pressure on myself and going out and free-wheeling a bit more," he said.

"In the last year or so in the opening rounds of majors, I was a little bit tight and tentative instead of going out and playing my game," added McIlroy, whose 2017 will include marrying his fiancee Erica Stoll.

Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Tiger Woods after the final round of the 2015 Masters
Rory McIlroy's rivals at next month's Dubai Desert Classic will include Tiger Woods

McIlroy aims not to be pre-occupied by Masters

In April, McIlroy will have a third attempt at completing the career Grand Slam at the Masters but he is attempting not to be preoccupied by his Augusta challenge.

"The more years without me winning it, I realise that it's going to become tougher but there is so much more to be achieved, whether it's in [all] the majors or following up a FedEx Cup success with another one or trying to win the Race to Dubai again," he explained.

McIlroy's Christmas break included falling sick for a number of days and he used that time in bed to look back at his previous majors - including his final-day collapse at the 2011 Masters.

"If 2011 hadn't happened, would I be standing here having won a US Open, two PGAs and an Open Championship? You never know," he said.

After competing in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy will complete his Middle East swing in the Dubai Desert Classic in early February where his rivals will include Tiger Woods.

McIlroy believes Woods, 41, is entitled to take encouragement from his 15th place at his own World Challenge tournament last month in the Bahamas as he returned to action after more than a year out because of injury.

"He made more birdies than anyone else that week. He made a few mistakes as well but the signs are there and he's healthy again," added McIlroy.

"He's playing a lot of golf at the start of the season so hopefully the body holds up."

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