JOHANNESBURG • Golf's world No. 2 Rory McIlroy tees off today at the South African Open hoping that a change of clubs will not trigger a loss of form.
The last time the 27-year-old from Northern Ireland made his seasonal debut with new equipment was four years ago, and he initially struggled to adapt. It was the only time in the past eight years that the four-time Major winner finished outside the top five in his first appearance of the year.
Nike's withdrawal from club manufacturing forced McIlroy to change and he has spent several weeks in Dubai experimenting.
For his first South African Open appearance since 2008, he will use woods and irons from one manufacturer, wedges and balls from another and a putter from a third.
McIlroy, a 7-4 favourite to win the second oldest national golf championship after the British Open, said he had adapted quickly to his new clubs at Glendower Golf Club.
"The first few holes of my practice round were not great but once I got into the rhythm, everything was fine," he said.
He added that it could take time before settling on a new equipment combination. "My choice of equipment may change. We will see how I fare," he said.
Four other former Major title holders are in the field - Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Nick Faldo and Darren Clarke.
But the greatest threat to McIlroy could come from rising local star Brandon Stone, winner of the Alfred Dunhill Championship.
SOUTH AFRICAN OPEN
Day 1: StarHub Ch204, 4pm