Darren Clarke today begins his bid to move up three places into the leading 60 in the ‘Race To Dubai’ and so grab a place in next week’s season-ending Dubai World Championship.
Clarke tees off at the UBS Hong Kong Open at Fanling, where he will be joined by fellow Ulstermen Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Michael Hoey.
McIlroy is currently in second place in the ‘Race To Dubai’ — which carries a $1,500,000 first prize — behind Lee Westwood.
Westwood, too, is competing in the Hong Kong Open, which will decide who comes out on top in the lucrative ‘Race’.
McIlroy’s battle with Westwood headlines the field at the Hong Kong Open but smaller battles will also unfold in Fanling.
McIlroy sits 52,321 euros adrift of money-list leader Westwood heading into the penultimate event of the season, with both in good form following a string of top-10 finishes.
New world number four Westwood, 36, is keen to hang onto pole position ahead of next week's World Championship with a win on his first visit to Hong Kong Golf Club.
The 2000 Order of Merit winner said: “I have watched it on TV over the years. It is very tight and tree-lined. Same as most other courses we play in that if you hit it straight, get it in position and hole a few putts, you generally do well.
“There is big prize money next week but it will certainly help to win here this week. I am not thinking about the money list this week but thinking more about the Hong Kong Open as it is a very old and prestigious tournament and one I have never won.”
Westwood feels he is playing the best golf of his career.
“I played pretty well in 2000 and in 1998-99 when I was winning a lot of events, but I feel better now.
“I feel my game has become more rounded and there are less weaknesses so now it is just a case of finishing it off more often like I did in the late '90s and 2000.
“My previous highest place (on the world rankings) was fourth back in 2000 and I was there for two or three weeks so to go through a slump and get back to fourth obviously means a lot — it probably means more than anything I have done this year so far.”
McIlroy, 20, was the runner-up last year after just losing out in a thrilling play-off and is keen to go one better to remain in the hunt for a maiden money-list title in only his second full season.
“These two weeks are going to be very good. Hong Kong I love coming to. It's my fifth year coming here — twice as an amateur and then this is my third Hong Kong Open,” said the world number 17, who announced yesterday he would be taking up a full US PGA Tour card next season.
“I love the city and golf course. It is one of my favourite weeks of the year.”
Oliver Wilson, Simon Dyson, Singapore Open champion Ian Poulter, Soren Kjeldsen and Francesco Molinari are all currently ranked inside the top 15 in the Race to Dubai and looking to improve their positions this week.
The likes of Bradley Dredge, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Dodd are hoping to hang onto qualifying spots, while Castello Masters champion Michael Jonzon is looking to break into the top 60 to ensure a place at the lucrative season-ending showpiece.
While all these players are assured of their Tour cards for next season, Hong Kong represents the last chance for a large contingent to secure their spots.
The issue is complicated by the co-sanctioned JBWere Masters also taking place this week in Australia but Oliver Fisher knows 43rd place is a minimum this week.
Fisher was rated higher than McIlroy as a junior but, while the Ulsterman claimed his maiden career title in Dubai earlier this year, Fisher has failed to follow up last year's 51st place on the money list.
With the threat of losing his card hanging over him, Fisher has produced strong performances over his last three events after missing the cut in his previous seven. Simon Khan, the 2004 Celtic Manor Wales Open champion, must finish at least ninth, while 2005 Volvo PGA Championship winner Scott Drummond must claim at least seventh with his five-year exemption set to run out.