x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

McIlroy has sights on the first prize

Rory McIlroy is timing his run brilliantly in a bid to become the inaugural winner of the lucrative Race to Dubai.

Rory McIlroy won this year's Dubai Desert Classic.
Rory McIlroy won this year's Dubai Desert Classic.

Rory McIlroy is timing his run brilliantly in a bid to become the inaugural winner of the lucrative Race to Dubai, the young Irishman having moved into a narrow lead thanks to his solid performance in the delayed Dunhill Links Championship. A joint runners-up cheque for ?281,600 (Dh1.51 million) enabled McIlroy to become the first European Tour player to break through the ?2m barrier and move into pole for the US$1.5m (Dh5.5m) first prize in Race to Dubai that concludes with the $7.5m Dubai World Championship (DWC) from November 19 to 22.

The massive size of the prize pool for the DWC means that the Race will almost certainly be settled on Greg Norman's Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. With only seven events remaining on what used to be called the Tour's order of merit, the gap between McIlroy and second-placed Martin Kaymer is under ?17,000. Another 12 players on the money list have accumulated earnings of over ?1m and could easily snatch the verdict by triumphing in the DWC and seeing those above them fall by the wayside.

McIlroy's disappointment at failing to secure the second tournament victory of his career in the Dunhill - he was level with eventual winner Simon Dyson going into the final round but finished three shots adrift - was handsomely compensated for by his climb to the top of the money list. Still only 20, McIlroy, the winner of this year's Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates GC, will be confident of holding his proud position on the run-in as he is chased principally by the injured duo of Kaymer and England's Paul Casey.

Another Englishman Lee Westwood is fourth ahead of the former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, the Australian who needs to play in two more European tournaments to be eligible to compete in the DWC. Angel Cabrera, the US Masters champion, is another who has not yet fulfilled the entry requirements of 11 appearances to gain entry to the DWC. The Argentine's Augusta triumph (majors and other leading events on the US PGA Tour count towards qualifying for the DWC) keeps him in the top 10 on the European money list.

Looking anxiously at the forthcoming schedule are luminaries such as Australia's Adam Scott and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke who are currently on the wrong side of the dividing line of 60 qualifiers for the end-of-season spectacular. Conversely, England's Justin Rose, a former order of merit winner, is anxiously looking over his shoulder with barely ?12,000 to spare over the non-qualifiers. Comfortably through to the DWC is Ireland's Padraig Harrington, winner of three major titles.

He has come under criticism from Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the European Tour's players' committee for an alleged lack of commitment to Europe in the pursuit of greater riches in the United States. wjohnson@thenational.ae