Rory McIlroy’s work on the DP World Tour so far this season is very much a case of quality over quantity: in fact, he has played only nine times – with seven top-five finishes – and, yet, the world number one’s performances are such that he heads into season-ending Tour Championship over the Earth course in Dubai as the man everyone needs to catch.
The numbers game is such, however, that McIlroy is one of seven players – including Shane Lowry – with a shot at finishing off the season as the European Tour’s order of merit winner for the Harry Vardon Trophy. Ryan Fox, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Viktor Hovland and Adrian Meronk are also in the mix.
McIlroy, though, is the player with destiny in his own hands. “I just think it would be a really nice way to finish off the year. This is my last event of the season. I know some of the other guys will play in the Bahamas in a couple weeks in Tiger’s event [the Hero World Challenge]. I think the way I’ve played throughout the year, I’ve been so consistent, especially the last six or seven months post-Augusta.
“I’m coming off the back of a really good performance [winning the CJ Cup on the PGA Tour] and I’ll try to replicate that again. I feel like my game is in good shape. I would be slightly disappointed if I walked away from here knowing I didn’t play as well as if I can, and I know if I do play like that, I’ll give myself a good chance,” said McIlroy, seeking a third title in the season-ending championship and also looking to complete the double by adding the European order of merit to the FedEx Cup title he won on the PGA Tour.
For Lowry to spoil McIlroy’s party, the Offalyman – currently 20th in the world rankings – would have to win the tournament and rely on a combination of other factors including McIlroy finishing worse than seventh, Fox worse than fifth and Fitzpatrick worse than second.
Lowry, who augmented his career CV by adding the BMW PGA Championship in winning at Wentworth back in September to leapfrog up the order of merit, said of getting the chance to win the Harry Vardon:
“Being a player that plays on both tours, you look at the big events that you need to do well in and some of the big events and try and achieve that. I had a good finish in a couple of Majors and WGCs, and obviously Wentworth helped me along the way. It’s certainly one of the goals, one of boxes you want to tick at the start of the year and you know any time you find yourself here in Dubai in November, it’s been a decent year.”
Lowry, indeed, has shown a great likeness for the Earth course – 10 career top-10s – and again believes he can contend: “The greens are quite big, so you hit a lot of greens. But I think you need to hit it into the right portions of the greens to not leave yourself big, long putts over slopes.
“I think your iron play needs to be quite precise, and mine is. This week is as thick as I’ve ever seen the rough and as bad as I’ve ever seen the rough. I think off the tee this week, you’ll have to be quite good as well. Putting the ball in the fairway this week and if I hit enough fairways, I think I’ll have a chance.”
While McIlroy and Lowry go chasing the DP World Tour Championship – and both in with a chance of also claiming the order of merit – there is a similar ambition for Solheim Cup star Leona Maguire in the season-ending CME Globe LPGA Tour Championship in Florida.
Séamus Power, meanwhile, goes into the RSM Classic – the final event of the year on the PGA Tour – owning the number one position in the FedEx Cup standings. The Waterford man has moved into the top-30 in the world on the back of a strong recent run of form which included a win in the Bermuda Championship.
DP World Tour Championship
Purse: €10 million (€3m to the winner)
Where: Dubai, UAE
The course: The Earth Course – 7,706 yards, par 72 – is a Greg Norman-design that manages to integrate lush fairways and copious water features/hazards on a desert landscape. The Great White Shark once described the stretch of four finishing holes from the 15th as the “most challenging mile” in golf which can be taken with a degree of hyperbole. It is still a fine finish, especially the risk-reward par-five 18th hole which features a meandering brook which effectively divides the fairway into two options for the player off the tee.
The field: Definitely plenty of star quality in the limited 50-man field with world number one Rory McIlroy, number five Jon Rahm and number 10 Matt Fitzpatrick providing the X-factor in the final event of the European Tour’s season. Collin Morikawa was a late withdrawal in defence of his Race to Dubai title but McIlroy faces a challenge from Ryan Fox, Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood if he is to seal the deal. Apart from the tournament itself, there is also the battle for the order of merit title with McIlroy heading into the finale in number one position, with Shane Lowry sixth. The different scenarios mean anyone from one to seven in the points table can ultimately win the order of merit.
Quote-Unquote: “It’s really nice at this stage of my career, 15 years in, I’m still finding ways to improve. That’s a really positive thing going forward” – world number one Rory McIlroy.
Irish in the field: Shane Lowry is paired with Viktor Hovland (8.25am Irish time), Rory McIlroy is paired with Ryan Fox (8.45am Irish time).
Betting: Given Rory McIlroy’s form of late – 1st-2nd-4th-4th-1st – it is no surprise that the world number one is a strong 11-4 favourite with Jon Rahm a 5-1 shot and Matt Fitzpatrick rated a 9-1 prospect … Shane Lowry is priced at 14-1 but there could be decent each-way value further down the market with Richard Mansell worth a look at 80s.
On TV: Sky Sports (live coverage from 5am).
CME Globe LPGA Tour Championship
Purse: €7 million (€2m to the winner)
Where: Naples, Florida
The course: Tiburón Golf Club (Gold Course) – 6,556 yards, par 72 – is a Greg Norman-design (tiburón is the Spanish word for shark!) and has played host to the LPGA Tour Championship since 2013. The course is a certified nature sanctuary. Unusually, the bunkers are filled with coquina shell waste rather than sand and also features turf sods in the formation of the walls.
The field: Nelly Korda returned to world number one with her win in the Pelican Championship last week and heads an exceptionally strong line-up in the end-of-season tournament limited to the leading 60 available players off the order of merit. Lydia Ko headed the points list but all players start from a level playing field for the season’s finale.
Quote-Unquote: “It’s hard [to play in pain], but only I can do just medicine and just tape it on, just trying to play” – Jin Young Ko, seeking a hat-trick of Tour Championships, on playing with a wrist injury that has troubled her in recent months.
Irish in the field: Leona Maguire is paired with Hannah Green for the opening round (tee-time 4.20pm Irish time).
Betting: Lydia Ko’s form of late has her installed as the market leader at 15-2 while Nelly Korda, who has rediscovered the winning habit after her illness travails of earlier in the season, is rated a 9-1 shot … the injury concerns over course specialist Jin Young Ko (seeking a third straight win) see her out at 66-1. Leona Maguire showed good weekend form at the Pelican and is worth a look at odds of 40-1.
On TV: Sky Sports (live coverage 8pm).
Purse: €8 million (€1.4m to the winner)
Where: Sea Island, Georgia
The course: The Seaside Course – 7,005 yards, par 70 – is a Tom Fazio redesign of the original Harry Colt/Charles Alison layout by the Atlantic. Local resident Davis Love III (he designed the complementary Plantation course) has described it as “18 matchless holes” in terms of the challenge and the seaside aesthetics.
The field: Tony Finau, winner in Houston last week, was forced to withdraw through injury which means that there is no player from the world’s top-20 playing. Séamus Power, the world ranked number 30, is aiming to maintain a strong run of recent form which seen him win in Bermuda and follow up with a tied-third finish in the Mayakoba.
Quote-Unquote: “I definitely think when I’m playing my best, my driver’s very accurate … I think that plays into my hand” – Sepp Straka, who moved to the Sea Island area after his family moved from Austria in his youth, on his strength around the course.
Irish in the field: Séamus Power is in a group with Joel Dahmen and Jason Day (3.30pm Irish time).
Betting: Brian Harman is the market leader at 18-1 in a wide open field with Séamus Power decently priced at 22-1 on a course he knows extremely well … Tyson Alexander is worth an each-way look at odds of 150-1.
On TV: Sky Sports (live coverage 2.30pm).