Since Rory McIlroy arrived in the United Arab Emirates over the weekend, he has seen his No. 1 world ranking preserved by virtue of another man’s missed putt in California, been drawn into a driving-range drama over whether he ignored a defector to LIV Golf and had a tee thrown his way in retaliation, and mentioned how he was served a subpoena on Christmas Eve.

But on Thursday, after one of the more bizarre tournament preludes in recent memory, McIlroy is expected to play a competitive round for the first time in 2023 and give his sport a glimpse at whether he has the form that last year rekindled some of the fever that followed him earlier in his career.

"I’ve been obviously practicing at home and practicing well, but it’s always first tournament of the year, getting back on to the golf course, just trying to get comfortable again with shots on the course and visuals and all that sort of stuff,” McIlroy said Wednesday in Dubai, where he had a debacle last January but a good-enough showing in November to win the season points crown for the DP World Tour, as the European Tour is currently marketed.