Rory McIlroy aims to cement lead in Race to Dubai
Europe's Asian fringe is the setting for Rory McIlroy's attempt to clean up on both sides of the Atlantic. Already unassailable at the top of the American money list, McIlroy takes a Race to Dubai lead of €427,334 (£350,00) into the BMW Masters in Shanghai this week hoping to emulate Luke Donald's double act of a year ago. With mammoth pots also at stake in Singapore and Dubai in the next month, McIlroy will have to set his alarm to ensure the jackpot does not escape him.
The money on offer, $1.4m (£930,000) to the winner, has attracted a deep field to Shanghai, including 11 of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team. Justin Rose, second in the money list, is best placed to challenge McIlroy, but after the Northern Irishman's listless display in Turkey a fortnight ago everybody in the top dozen, bookended by Lee Westwood on €1.4m, will be paying attention.
McIlroy spent last week in Moscow watching girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki claim her 20th tennis title. Though the clubs travelled with him they did not get an airing. Historically McIlroy has managed periods of absence as well as any, and as we saw in Chicago he has little need of a warm-up to get his ball around. We can dismiss his paltry efforts in Turkey, where he alone failed to engage the competitive juices. With ranking points and meaningful money on the table in Shanghai, McIlroy insists he will be ready to fire on Thursday.
"I would love to win the Race to Dubai so I am going to give it one last push," he said. "Motivation won't be a problem. I want to try to keep my lead in the world rankings and try to finish off the season well. There is still a lot to play for. It has been a great season. I have some big events coming up. I have come close a couple of times in the Race to Dubai, so to win it this year would mean a lot.
"I think I have paced myself well this year. I didn't play too much at the start of the year. I added Memphis because I felt I needed it and I wasn't playing so well at the time and obviously it has been a very busy summer starting with the British Open, Akron, PGA, FedEx Cup, Ryder Cup. So it has been a busy stretch. But I don't feel like it has taken that much out of me."
Rose is finishing the season in full comet mode. Second to Brandt Snedeker at the FedEx finale, the Tour Championship, pivotal in the Ryder Cup and a winner in Turkey, Rose sees the Race to Dubai as an achievable stepping stone to an assault on the majors next season. His victory at the WGC Cadillac Championship at Doral against an elite field was a prime mover in raising levels of self-belief.
"I'd like to give Rory a run for the Race to Dubai," he said. "He has got a little bit of a lead on me and he is playing a lot of golf now as well. So he's going to be tough to catch.
"If I can continue to push the top end of the leaderboard, I'll give myself a chance. That would be fun. I've won 11, 12 times now but I feel like I can still improve to win four, five, six times a year before I solely focus on the major championships. I feel my game is now ready to handle that. Whether it's at Augusta, the US Open, or wherever."
The trend toward the big finish is already established on the PGA Tour with the FedEx play-offs. The European Tour is due to announce its own multimillion-pound finale next season, which will close in the desert at the end of November. A new addition to the schedule, the Turkish Open, has already been announced as the penultimate event.
The intention is to attract the game's global elite to Europe's end-of-season party. Phil Mickelson joins the China stretch next week at the only World Golf Championship event outside the United States, the WGC-HSBC Champions at Mission Hills. Tiger Woods has been an episodic visitor. The aim is to make Woods et al a fixture.
Rich Rory: money lists
1 R McIlroy (GB)€2.8m (£2.29m)
2 J Rose (GB)€2.38m
3 B Grace (SA)€2.03m
4 F Molinari (It)€1.78m
5 E Els (SA)€1.76m
US PGA tour
1 R McIlroy (GB) $8.04m (£5.03m)
2 T Woods (US)$6.13m
3 B Snedeker (US)$4.99m