After the most successful year in his short but spectacular career, World Number Two Rory McIlroy will go all out for one final push to become European Number One when the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World gets underway at Jumeirah Golf Estates tomorrow Thursday.
But the 22 year-old star knows he faces a tough battle as Luke Donald, the man at the top of the order in both world and European rankings, is also coming off his most productive twelve months in the sport.
“Winning The Race to Dubai would obviously rank second after winning my first major,” said McIlroy, the reigning US Open Champion. “I've got to win and Luke has to finish outside the top nine or ten – but I’m not really counting on him doing that because he's only finished outside the top ten about twice this year!?
“I need to play very well to beat a top class field - the top four players in the world and the top 60 in Europe are here, so it's going to be a very tough ask.”
Held under the patronage of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World sees many of the greatest players on earth do battle for a share of $7.5 million in prize-money and a large slice of the additional $7.5 million Bonus Pool.
Yet despite awaiting the results of a blood test as a result of a virus, McIlroy arrived in Dubai fresh from victory at the UBS Hong Kong Open and is upbeat about being back in the UAE.
“I love it here, I really do,” said the popular Northern Irishman, seen by many as the natural heir to Tiger Wood’s crown. “This is a part of the world where I've done well before and it's obviously somewhere I've grown to know and love over the past few years. I spend a lot of time here and it's just great to come back. You've got great restaurants, great hotels... you're really well looked after.”
But while McIlroy may love the Dubai lifestyle, he is also a serious player when it comes to the business of competing over the emirate’s world-class golf courses having already won the Dubai Desert Classic and been a regular star performer at the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World.
“I've had some success over the last couple of years with a third place and a fifth place at the Earth course. This year, the golf course looks fantastic and it looks like it's in the best shape ever. I’m excited – I’ve still got a slim chance of winning The Race to Dubai, which would be a great way to finish my most successful year to date and set me up nicely for 2012.
Despite all eyes being on the battle between the World Number One and Two, the field is packed with talent, including 2010 Dubai World Champion and Race to Dubai winner Lee Westwood.
“I think anybody who enjoys golf likes to see the season ending event go down to the wire,” said Westwood. “You don't want a foregone conclusion.
”It's nice to see two people battling it out where somebody could have a putt to win both the Money List and the tournament. Rory’s obviously more experienced now and he did well to win last week and give himself a chance going into this event. But I think the ball is still in Luke's court. It's always difficult when you have to win to actually do it.”