McIlroy up for big Match
Rory McIlroy's determined to go one better than Padraig Harrington and take a giant step towards winning the Race to Dubai by claiming this week's €3.25m Volvo World Matchplay Championship in Spain.
The 20-year-old could be forgiven for resting on his laurels after a stellar season that has seen him claim his maiden professional win and rise to 16th in the world rankings.
But McIlroy is nothing if not a born winner and with just four events to go in the race to crown this season's European number one, he's only got eyes for a victory he dreamed of as a boy.
“I desperately want to win the Race to Dubai,” McIlroy said at Finca Cortesin, which has taken over from Wentworth as the venue for the annual World Match Play title joust. “It's been on my mind since the US PGA, or even Switzerland.
“Obviously I went to the top after the Dunhill, and Lee (Westwood) won in Portugal and overtook me, and then Martin Kaymer overtook me in Valencia last week, as well.
“I know it will be tough and I have to play very, very well. But if I don't win, I will be a little disappointed. It will be natural if I am.”
McIlroy is no stranger to the World Match Play, which has a new sponsor, a new round-robin format and a new Spanish home after 43 years at Wentworth.
He was just nine years old when he visited the Old Burma Road course as a family treat in 1999 and just 11 when he saw Harrington come up short against Ian Woosnam in a birdie-filled decider.
Recalling his autograph hunting days, he said: “I remember running around Wentworth twice a day when I was a kid; and to be able to play it now, I don't know if any of the guys here this week would have played the years I was there, but you know, it's a pretty cool feeling to be able to play in it now. I'm really looking forward to it.”
There will be no running around the 7,380 yard Finca Cortesin course in the hills above Casares, just eight miles up the coast from Valderrama.
Long walks between tees and greens at the sprawling but luxurious resort mean the 16-man field will be ferried in buggies over the longer stretches between holes.
There's a new Champions League-style format for this year's tournament with the 16-man field divided into four groups of four.
Players play the other three members of their group to an 18-hole finish over the first two days with the top points scorer in each group going through to Saturday's semi-finals.
That's not good news for Paul Casey, who is returning after a three-month lay off and still struggling with a rib injury. Or Martin Kaymer, who limped to a share of second in Valencia last week after breaking toes in a karting accident.
The number of holes a player wins over the three days will be used to break ties and determine the last four and McIlroy knows that he faces a tough task.
He faces Masters champion Angel Cabrera this afternoon before taking on stablemate Simon Dyson tomorrow morning, followed by world number seven Henrik Stenson in the afternoon.
“It will be really tough to get through the group, especially as I've got Henrik, Cabrera and Dyson in mine,” McIlroy said.
“Obviously Angel has won the Masters this year and Henrik has done very well in the past in match play, and he's The Players champion this year while Simon is in the best form of his life. So it's a pretty tough group.”
Would winning the Race to Dubai tick a major goal off the list and make it easier to join the PGA Tour next year?
“It's not that you're just Europe's number one and head off to the States,” he said. “I still have to make a decision — I change my mind every day.”