Rory McIlroy can be summit special
European Tour chiefs will be willing Rory McIlroy to victory or at least a top-two finish in this week’s Hong Kong Open.
For McIlroy is the only man with any chance of challenging Luke Donald in the Race to Dubai.
And European golf certainly doesn’t want a Sebastian Vettel-style climax to its season at next week’s Dubai World Championship, with Donald not even needing to turn up to win the Order of Merit.
As team players, Formula One drivers at least have to compete for their sport’s greatest honours.
It’s staggering to think that Martin Kaymer, currently second to Donald in the Race to Dubai, doesn’t play in Hong Kong this week and will tee it up instead at a $5m, 12-man exhibition event in South Africa.
So instead of going head-to-head with England’s World Number One in the penultimate tournament on the 2011 European Tour schedule, the top two in the Money List square-up in the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City.
The Nedbank Challenge, staged annually in Sun City and branded as ‘the showpiece of South African golf’, has long enjoyed tacit approval from the powers that be in professional golf, with official world rankings points even on offer.
World Number One Donald will also face defending champion and World Number Three Lee Westwood in Sun City this weekend, while Open Champion Darren Clarke, fellow Major-winners Graeme McDowell and Irish Open-winner Simon Dyson are prominent among those ‘released’ by the European Tour to play in Sun City. Kaymer leap-frogged McIlroy into second place in the European money list by winning last month’s HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Having rekindled his prospects of holding onto the Race to Dubai title he won in 2010, one might have expected the German to take every opportunity to bridge the gap between himself and Donald.
Yet he hasn’t played for any official European Tour prizemoney since. Kaymer took two weeks off after Shanghai and missed the Singapore and Johor Opens. In fairness, he then linked up with Alex Cejka to claim a creditable share of second place for Germany in last weekend’s World Cup, but then travelled to South Africa instead of Hong Kong.
In spurning three opportunities to overhaul Donald, Kaymer has devalued the Race to Dubai, pointedly at a time when its sponsorship is due for renewal.
Yet the European Tour must share responsibility for allowing this laissez-faire situation develop with its leading players.
McIlroy hasn’t exactly busted a gut to catch Donald either. Since October’s Dunhill Links, the 22-year-old played the Kolon Open in Korea instead of the Madrid Masters and favoured a seven day junket around China instead of the Portugal Masters.
The US Open champion can hardly be faulted for opting for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf during the week of Castellon, while the $2m first prize he won at the ‘unofficial’ Shanghai Masters unravels arguments that he should have played at Valderrama that weekend.
In Donald’s absence, McIlroy boosted his Race to Dubai prospects by finishing fourth behind Kaymer at HSBC but then needed a holiday with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki.
At least McIlroy’s in Hong Kong this week and is a worthy 4/1 favourite to claim the first prize and vault Kaymer into second place behind Donald.
Given McIlroy’s inconsistency with the putter, it’s difficult to envision him winning on successive Sundays in Hong Kong and Dubai.
Yet at least he’ll have given the impression that, apart from Donald, somebody up there in professional golf’s firmament really cares about the Race to Dubai.