Rory McIlroy hoping to rekindkle some past magic in the desert
Former world number one has won four times in Dubai and his hoping to make it five
Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot during the third round of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Gary Player CC in Sun City, South Africa. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
To all intents and purposes, this week’s European Tour season finale – the DP World Tour Championship – looks set to be a coronation in the desert for Francesco Molinari in what has been a standout season for the Italian in a march to being Europe’s number one.
With the likelihood that British Open champion and Ryder Cup star Molinari – over €1.1 million ahead of his nearest pursuer Tommy Fleetwood in the Race to Dubai standings – will add the order of merit title to his season’s curriculum vitae, the tournament, confined to leading 60 available players, also provides an opportunity for other players to reap some overdue dividends from their seasons: Rory McIlroy is one of them!
The Northern Irishman’s only win of the year came stateside on the PGA Tour, in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and his European Tour season saw him knock on the door without getting any answers with three runner-up finishes (in the Dubai Desert Classic, the BMW PGA and the British Open) reflecting the case of so-close but not close enough.
A return to Dubai, though, is something that always seems to stir McIlroy’s senses. He has four career wins in the desert, two in the Dubai Desert Classic (2009 and 2015) and two in the DP World Tour Championship (2012 and 2015) and he sought to take the positives rather than any negatives away from the Nedbank Challenge where he finished tied-21st behind Lee Westwood, where a seven on the third hole (he found bushes off the tee) summed up his love/hate affair with Sun City.
There is little doubt that McIlroy’s love of Dubai and its courses is an entirely different matter to his discomfort in Sun City. “It’s a golf course I have had so much success on,” admitted McIlroy of the Greg Norman-designed Earth course. “I’m very familiar with the place and looking forward to it. If there’s any course or any place in the world where I can get a bit of confidence from, it’s Dubai.”
McIlroy’s record on the Earth course is impressive. Since the tournament was first staged there in 2009, McIlroy’s results have been: 3rd, 5th, 11th, 1st, 5th, 2nd, 1st, 9th and DNP. He missed last year’s tournament as he recovered from injury.
In all, three Irish players – McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne – have made it to the Tour Championship. Lowry was runner-up to Jon Rahm last year in the tournament while Dunne finished tied-25th. “It’s a course I really like,” said Dunne. It certainly won’t put the same demands on his driving as he experienced in Sun City.
For Dunne and Lowry, this is the third of a four-week stint to finish the season. Although this is their last outings as individuals, the pair will travel on to Melbourne next week for the two-man World Cup at The Metropolitan sandbelt course in South Oakleigh.
Molinari looks set to complete his standout season on tour as Europe’s number one. He currently holds a lead of 1,025,166 points over his closest pursuer Fleetwood. Justin Rose – who retained the Turkish Airlines Open title in his most recent outing – is third in the rankings but has decided not to add the championship onto his schedule which, mathematically, makes for a head-to-head between the two Ryder Cup partners.
Rose’s decision not to play, along with Julian Suri and Paul Casey also opting not to take up their places in the field, has ensured that a number of players have benefited with Hideto Tanihara, Matthew Southgate and Robert Rock getting in off the reserve list.