x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

'There is still a lot to play for' says Rory McIlroy

The Northern Irishman hails 'consistent' Donald, as the top two-ranked players will will be the last duo that go out on the course on day one.

Rory McIlroy, right, does not think he can get past Luke Donald as the European Tour’s top money winner.
Rory McIlroy, right, does not think he can get past Luke Donald as the European Tour’s top money winner.

DUBAI // Rory McIlroy yesterday all but ruled out his chances of catching Luke Donald as the European Tour's top money winner, saying he does not expect the No 1 player in the world to falter in the final event of the season.

McIlroy is the only player in the 58-man field at this week's Dubai World Championship who can stop Donald from winning the tour's order of merit.

For that to happen, McIlroy would have to win at Jumeirah Golf Estates while Donald finishes outside the top nine - something he has done only three times all season on the European Tour.

The top players on the tour have converged on the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course for the US$7.5 million (Dh27.5m) prize fund as well as a $7.5 million bonus pool for the top 15 golfers in the Race to Dubai's final standings.

"There is still a lot to play for and I am obviously trying to win the Race to Dubai, but I'm not really counting on Luke finishing outside the top 10," said McIlroy, who is second to Donald in both the world and European rankings.

"It's going to be a tough ask, but I'll give it my best as it would be great to finish the season on a high."

McIlroy, the 22 year old who won the US Open earlier this year, won the Hong Kong Open on Sunday despite fighting illness.

He is in good form, but with the gap between him and the Donald standing at €789,788 (Dh3.9m), he described his chances as "slim" when looking ahead to the tournament. The winner here takes home €922,645 and 10th position earns €127,325.

They will start their battle with a head-to-head pairing in the first round tomorrow, as the final twosome out on the course. They will tee-off at 12.30pm.

Donald said yesterday that he expected all along that McIlroy would make him work to win the Race to Dubai, and was not surprised by McIlroy's win in Hong Kong. Anything less than a top-two finish for McIlroy would have given the season money title to Donald already.

"I knew Rory would put the pressure on me and make it tough going, but I've still got a nice comfortable lead," Donald said.

"He's going to have to go out and win this week and beat a high quality field, and I think the advantage is still with me. I'm looking forward to it."

Donald, 33, is on the verge of becoming the first golfer to finish on top of both the American and European money lists in the same season.

That is one reason why McIlory believes that Donald is undoubtedly the world's best player, despite the fact that Donald has never won a major.

"For 18 months now, Luke has just been so consistent," McIlroy said. "He's won four times this year, and all at big events such as the World Match Play and at Disney, which he needed to do [to win the money title on the US PGA Tour].

"He is deservedly the No 1 player in the world. But I feel as if I'm playing well and would love to overtake him."

McIlory was struck by a virus last month while on holiday in the Maldives. The illness left him on a intravenous drip for a few days.

He said he still has not fully recovered and, indeed, looked weary as he addressed the media yesterday.

"I'm not energy wise where I want to be but I took a day off yesterday and took it easy," he said. "I'm not 100 per cent but I'm still able to go out and play 18 holes and try and give it my all.

"I have been on the road for 12 weeks and I probably won't do that again.

"I visited a doctor in Dubai for some tests, because my white blood cell count was really low, and I'll get the results in a couple of days."

McIlroy said he was encouraged by his come-from-behind victory in Hong Kong, which he clinched by holing a shot from the bunker on the 18th hole.

"Hopefully, it [the Dubai World Championship] won't come down to having to hole a bunker shot at the last," he said. "But if it does, I know that I've done it before so I'm really looking forward to this week.

"It's a golf course that I've had some success on the last couple of years."

McIlory finished fifth here last year, and he was third in 2009, when Lee Westwood blew away the field to win the tournament and snatch the top European ranking from the Northern Irishman.