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Golf stars racing to Dubai

By Karl MacGinty

Asked by European Tour Radio on Sunday if he could provide a useful tip for listeners, Rory McIlroy came up with a gem.

“My 'Tip of the Week',” he said: “is to find a straight putt from about 10 feet on the practice green and put a chalk line down.

“I just think it's very good for your stroke and your rhythm. If you can aim the clubface squarely and stroke it well, the ball is going to go in.

“It's very good for your confidence as well because you can stand there for half an hour and hole 50 putts in a row. Then you go out on the golf course and just think about holing them.”

McIlroy did precisely this on Saturday evening after taking a mind-bending 36 putts in the third round of the Portugal Masters — yielding instant results as his closing 66 on Sunday included just 28 putts on greens which had bamboozled him for three days.

Despite playing exquisite golf from tee to green in Vilamoura, McIlroy surrendered his short-lived lead in The Race To Dubai to Lee Westwood because of an abominable performance with the putter.

Yet the success of Saturday's drill proved there's precious little wrong with the youngster's putting technique. Confidence is the key. Letting the Westwood genie out of the bottle represents the biggest blow to McIlroy and anyone else's hopes of victory in the inaugural Race to Dubai.

Back to a career-best ranking of No 5 in the world and free at last after 25 months of ever-increasing frustration without a win, Westwood, 35, could be carried all the way over the finishing line in Dubai next month by the confidence boost he receive from this victory on the Algarve.

Yet McIlroy will have a precious opportunity to bridge the €209,000 gap between himself and Westwood in next week's Volvo Match Play.

If the youngster plays as well as he did from tee to green in Vilamoura, he should be a match for Westwood on The Costa del Sol.

Any inhibitions one might have with the putter are less prevalent in match play, where the first putt often can be hit with little concern for the one back -- which helps explain the phenomenal success of a streaky putter like Colin Montgomerie at The Ryder Cup.

With less than €277,000 separating the top four and nearly €20m on offer in the remaining six events, the Race to Dubai appears a lot more competitive than it actually is — especially with third-placed Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey, in fourth, scheduled to return from lengthy injuries over the next eight days.

Kaymer will vie for the €333,000 first prize in Castellon this week, while match play maestro Casey will join the German, Westwood and McIlroy in the 16-man field competing for a €750,000 first prize at next week's Volvo showpiece, though only €541,666 counts for the official money list.

Padraig Harrington, 15th in the Race to Dubai and €1.185m behind Westwood after finishing third on the Algarve, will have to putt a lot better at the co-sanctioned Singapore Open next week and the HSBC World Championship to clinch the victories necessary to keep alive his flagging hopes winning the season-long championship.

Asked if he'd add next month's Hong Kong Open to his schedule if he needed to boost his position before the Dubai World Championship, 2005 Hong Kong-winner Harrington joked: “I'd be shot if answered yes to that question, as we've booked a family holiday for that week (in Dubai).”

Belfast Telegraph


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