Graeme McDowell has more than Rory McIlroy on his mind
Big money event could see Rathmore golfer close gap on leader Henrik Stenson
Rory McIlroy looks on with his caddie JP Fitzgerald during a Pro-Am at Lake Malaren Golf Club ahead of the Shaghai Masters. Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Bongarts/Getty Images
Graeme McDowell will be able to keep a close eye on Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson in the first round of the BMW Masters in Shanghai as he tries to topple the Swede from the top of the money list.
Those looking in will be more focused on the body language between the number two on the money list and the third member of the big three-ball of the opening round, with last year’s runner-up at Lake Malaren, Rory McIlroy, paired with the duo.
Rumours of a falling out between the two Ulstermen has followed McIlroy’s decision to split with management company Horizon and his failure to attend McDowell’s recent wedding.
But with a top prize of €850,000 on offer in China, McDowell could be forgiven for keeping his head down over the next four days in the no-cut event that was won last year by Stenson’s compatriot Peter Hanson by one shot from McIlroy.
Stenson holds a lead of €425,573 lead over McDowell at the top of the Race to Dubai standings ahead of the first of four events in the inaugural Final Series.
But with a juicy first prize on offer this week and a total prize fund of almost €22 million in the four events, there is plenty to play for.
“It’s four big weeks coming up starting here at the BMW Masters,” said Stenson, who was second in the British Open at Muirfield, third in the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill and then won the Deutsche Bank Championship and Tour Championship to capture the €7.25 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup.
“There’s a lot of points and money up for grabs in these events. It’s only one top finish from any one of the guys or a couple of the guys behind me to catch me or move beyond.
“So I’m just going to focus on my game and try to have some good weeks and hopefully I can get one really good week out of these four, and that should hopefully give me a shot at the overall title by the time the four weeks have finished.
“Obviously I’m delighted with my season. It was the best even before winning the FedEx Cup, I had all those good finishes and a nice win. Of course, the Tour Championship and winning the FedEx didn’t make it any worse.
“It’s quite nice to sit there at age 37 – I’m not old, old but I’m not young, young, either. It’s nice to have my best year at this point. I took some inspiration from my buddy Robert Karlsson. I think he had his best season winning the Order of Merit when he was about 40 (actually 39).”
Stenson has been struggling with a wrist injury recently but added in a pre-tournament press conference: “It was feeling quite bad for a while there but my physios managed to do some work yesterday and the movement came back and most of the pain is gone.
“It wasn’t a nice scenario to get problems with the wrist starting a big stretch like I am. I’ve got my crew out here so they can treat it in the weeks to come and keep it under control I hope. Hopefully it won’t bother me.”
While McDowell will be aiming for number one this weekend, McIlroy still has to secure his place in the top 60 to play the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
McIlroy won that event to secure the Race to Dubai and add it to his US money list win last season. He presently lies in 63rd position on the list with €445,811 in earnings, although he is less that €8,000 behind Luke Donald in 60th position.
Pádraig Harrington has a little more ground to make up as he presently sits in 72nd position on €394,000. Shane Lowry and Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley make up the Irish interest in Shanghai.