DUBAI: Rory McIlroy wasn t expecting to be leading the Race to Dubai after his injury-interrupted season, but now that he has the chance to win his third European Tour Order of Merit crown, the world number three is intent on not letting the opportunity slip from his grasp.
McIlroy, who leads the Race to Dubai with 3,393,923 points, did not play last week s BMW Masters in Shanghai, thus allowing the chasing pack to close on him.
His closest rival, England s Danny Willett needed to finish sole 28th at Lake Malaren to overtake him, but a tied 28th place finish gave McIlroy a slim advantage of 1,613 points going into the DP World Tour Championship, the season-ending event on the European Tour.
The 26-year-old from Holywood, near Belfast, won both the tournament and the Race to Dubai in 2012, when he closed with five birdies in a row to beat Justin Rose, and was the European number one last year when Henrik Stenson won the DP World Tour Championship for a second straight year.
“I didn t quite think I d be in this position, and coming into this event, especially after taking the week off last week, but a few of the guys didn t capitalise on that in China thankfully and I find myself in a position where it s totally in my hands,” said McIlroy whose worst finish in six previous starts at the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates is a tied 11th place finish in 2011.
“If I go out and win the tournament, I win the overall thing no matter what anybody else does, and that s a nice position to be in.
“I just want to win the tournament. I don t care who finishes second, who finishes third. If I am the champion at the end of the week, it means that I win the Race to Dubai and that s all I m really thinking about.”
McIlroy, who finished tied 11th in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai despite a severe bout of food poisoning the week before last, said he felt his health, and his game, were both in great shape to close the season with a victory.
“Just been trying to put a bit of weight on to be honest,” said McIlroy, who said he lost nearly 10 pounds in three days in Shanghai.
“I didn t really hit a ball until reaching Dubai late Friday night. But my game feels in good shape, it really does.
“I was excited, it s got better each and every week. I felt like it was good in Turkey and I felt like going into China, I could see improvements each and every day.
“I feel like I still finished well in China. It was a good week. It could have been better. I hit the ball great from tee-to-green. On the greens was a different story, and energy levels weren t quite there.
“But I felt like it was still a positive week in some ways. And now getting to Dubai and feeling at full strength and feeling 100 per cent healthy, I feel like I ve got a great chance on a golf course that I ve played very well at before.”
Willett, who took the lead in the Race to Dubai early when he won the NedBank Challenge towards the end of 2014, has not been out of the top-two throughout the season.
“It s a new experience, a new challenge. It s been a long, busy year. But one that s been very rewarding in many ways, and yeah, in a fantastic position to go out and do something pretty amazing,” said the 28-year-old who needs to finish ahead of McIlroy to win his first Race to Dubai title.
“I think everybody would always like to see a little bit of an underdog try and come through. We re pretty closely matched. This week there s one job to do which is win, and if you fail at winning, just try and beat Rory.
“We know kind of what we ve got to do, and so it s about trying not to let anything get in your way.
The $8 million DP World Tour Championship, featuring the top-60 players on the Race to Dubai, begins Thursday.