The 32-year-old travelled to the Middle East as first reserve for the tournament but found himself in the field last night after an MRI scan revealed that McIlroy had sustained a stress fracture to his rib.
Before finishing in South Africa, he looked unlikely for Abu Dhabi
But Stewart, who is in his first full season on the European Tour, knew that there’d be a high chance of getting into the field at McIlroy’s expense after a conversation with his fiancée, Erica Stoll, in the Players Lounge in South Africa.
“I was speaking to Erica on Saturday and, after his round, Rory came in and looked in quite a bit of discomfort,” Stewart told bunkered.co.uk’s Michael McEwan on-site at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“It seemed as though he was quite keen to pull out there and then but Erica encouraged him to keep going due to all the fans that had come out to see him.
“So before he’d even finished in South Africa, it looked unlikely that he’d be teeing it up in Abu Dhabi.”
Stewart says he feels for McIlroy in having to pull out but is delighted to have been included the field for the $2.7m prize fund event.
“Obviously I’m gutted for Rory that he’s had to pull out and I certainly owe him a beer as it’s got me into the event which has a fantastic field,” he added.
I certainly owe him a beer as it’s got me into the event which has a fantastic field
“I even jokingly asked him in South Africa whether he would mind waiting until today to pull out so I could get a great draw and be on TV.”
Duncan Stewart tees off alongside Tom Lewis and Lee Slattery at 1.05pm (9.05am UK time).