The Northern Irishman has moved on from being bullied to become the hunted, writes John McAuley
Rory McIlroy leads the Race to Dubai on merit
Three years represents a long time in any sport, but thanks to the meteoric rise of Rory McIlroy, the inaugural Race to Dubai seems an altogether different age.
Back in 2009, the 20-year-old Northern Irishman arrived at the season-ending Dubai World Championship (DWC) with pretensions of beating Lee Westwood to the European No 1 crown, yet left Jumeirah Golf Estates having been "bullied", in his rival's words, out of a first Order of Merit trophy.
When McIlroy descends upon the Earth Course in six weeks' time, however, it is he who constitutes the man to beat.
His reputation as golf's bright young thing was enriched in a remarkably consistent beginning to the season and, despite being punctuated by a similarly astounding summer slump, has since been forged further.
A second major title - the US PGA Championship was secured in August - provided the confidence to win back-to-back tournaments in the FedEx Cup play-offs and all but seal the US PGA Tour money list.
A successful Sunday at the Ryder Cup was timely, too, although the huge clock awarded afterwards by Jose Maria Olazabal, the European captain, in reference to McIlroy's mad dash to Medinah Country Club, will remind him to keep his foot on the gas. No US state trooper required.
Pre-season targets no doubt met, McIlroy has one last ambition to realise. "The big goal for me in what is left in the season is to keep the level up and win the Race to Dubai," he said on Tuesday as he prepared to contest the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final.
"It would be a great way to cap off my great season."
Despite missing the past five tournaments in this year's Race to Dubai, McIlroy enjoys a €437,334 (Dh2 million) lead over Justin Rose, his closest rival. The world No 1 next has the opportunity to increase that gap at the end of the month with the BMW Masters, where victory in Shanghai could almost guarantee the European money list gong, too.
McIlroy, though, should still seek victory against a field containing the top 60 players on the European circuit when the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai - the rebranded DWC - comes around.
Now 23 and at the peak of his powers, the Holywood-born star will want to demonstrate why he is currently, in golfing terms at least, the greatest show on Earth.
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