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McIlroy relishing his battle with Woods and Donald in Abu Dhabi

updated 3:27 PM EST, Wed January 25, 2012
Rory McIlroy (right) will play with Tiger Woods in the opening two rounds of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
Rory McIlroy (right) will play with Tiger Woods in the opening two rounds of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rory McIlroy says he can't wait to test himself against Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi
  • The 2011 U.S. Open champion will also play with current world number one Luke Donald
  • McIlroy says Woods is still the face of golf and that the 14-time major winner is in good shape
  • All of golf's current top four players are taking part in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship

(CNN) -- U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy is relishing the chance to lock horns with 14-time major winner Tiger Woods and world number one Luke Donald when the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship tees off Thursday.

McIlroy, world number three, will get a ringside view of Woods' start to the 2012 season, as he bids to recapture the form that saw him spend 623 consecutive weeks as the sport's best player between 2005 and 2010.

The Northern Irishman will also be alongside Donald, who finished top of the money list on both the European and U.S Tour last year.

McIlroy saw his own star rise in 2011, capturing his first major title at the U.S. Open, and he admits he can't wait to test himself against two of the biggest stars in the modern game.

After joking at a press conference that the draw was "not exactly low profile," McIlroy added: "It will definitely get the juices flowing.

Woods primed for 2012 challenge

"There's not many tournaments where you get really excited about a Thursday or a Friday, but this is one of these times."

McIlroy admits idolizing Woods as a youngster and says he felt more than a little trepidation when he came face-to-face with the 36-year-old for the first time.

He (Tiger Woods) still is the face of golf. No-one may play the way he did in 2001. He's still the main attraction in 2012
Rory McIlroy

He explained: "The first time you play with him -- you've watched this guy your whole life, winning majors and doing things that no-one thought was possible -- so you are going to be awestruck.

"I suppose once I got to spend a little time with him and maybe have lunch with him a few times and everything, you can sort of break the barrier down a little bit and it's fine from there. I feel quite comfortable being around him."

Woods has been struggling for form ever since 2009 when a sex scandal engulfed him, and though he suffered an injury-hit 2011, he won his first tournament in two years at the Chevron World Challenge in November.

McIlroy practiced with Woods on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's opening round and says his rival is still a force to be reckoned with.

"He still is the face of golf," McIlroy said. "He set the benchmark for a lot of guys -- no-one may play the way he did in 2001. He's still the main attraction in 2012.

"I see him contending again in majors. I practiced with him and he looked in good shape. He seems determined and looks at full fitness.

"It can only be good for the game. Hopefully I can get in the mix with him down the stretch on a few Sundays."

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