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Rory McIlroy sets sights on top five spot in the world

A year ago Rory McIlroy was striving to end only his second full season as a professional at the top of the European Tour rankings.

Twelve months on and the young Ulsterman is looking to bring down the curtain on 2010 by finishing in the World's top five.

At present, there are just 2.86 world ranking points separating Lee Westwood at No 1 and US Open champion Graeme McDowell at No 10.

There are also just 1.76 points covering Mcllroy (ninth) and his USA Ryder Cup rival Steve Stricker, who is currently at No 5 in the world.

“From fifth to ninth on the world rankings is just so close, so if I can get a couple of good results in my last few events this year, I could easily end the year as high as No 5,” he said after carding a 71 on day one of the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai.

“So, that's the goal and it also would be a great way to start the New Year being top five in the world. I ended last year at No 9 and as this game is all about moving forward, that's why No 5 is the big target. From there, it's just over one point to No 1 but, for now, I'll settle for No 5.”

While McIlroy looks to move higher up the rankings, it was a downcast day for himself, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell in the opening round of the $7m event in China.

McIlroy bogeyed his last to leave himself six shots behind Ryder Cup team-mate, Francesco Molinari, who heads the event at seven-under-par.

“It always leaves a sour taste in your mouth to bogey the last, but I am definitely playing better than I have been for the last few weeks,” McIlroy said.

“There's a few positives to take from the round, I putted really well in taking only 27 putts.

“So, all in all a 71 is not too bad. It could have been a little better, but it also could have been worse.”

Harrington birdied five holes, including sinking a 30-footer at his 15th, to be tied in sixth place at four-under-par with two holes to play. However, he bogeyed his closing two holes in a round of 70.

“It's never nice to bogey the last, let alone the last two — that never helps a round,” said Harrington.

“But then I birdied three of the four par threes, so that was nice.”

Harrington is contesting the first two days in the company of British Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen, who signed for a three-under-par 69.

And the South African, returning to competition after injuring his ankle on a shooting trip, delighted in playing in the Dubliner's company.

“Padraig is always nice to play with. Playing on the European Tour, I've got to know him very well before I won this year at St Andrews,” said Oosthuizen.

Belfast Telegraph