McIlroy looking to seal the deal in Singapore

 

GOLF: TOUR NEWSA top-10 finish this week would clinch a first European Order of Merit title for Rory McIlroy

Like discovering a way to decipher an ultra-complicated jigsaw puzzle, the pieces seem to be falling into place with consummate ease for Rory McIlroy. His quest for a maiden European Tour Order of Merit title – which will be decided in the season-ending Race to Dubai – would seem to be a foregone conclusion now his nearest five challengers in the money-list have opted to bypass two of the remaining three counting tournaments.

And, with word on the street he has already filmed his first Nike television commercial with Tiger Woods in good time for a launch of their new tie-up in January, the digital trail continued last night with that company’s unveiling of its new driver – a red-crowned club – that would appear likely to be the new implement of choice for the Northern Irishman as part of the purported $250 million 10-year deal lined up for him.

The US PGA champion is set to join a new Nike line-up on tour that will see him share star billing with Woods and also includes Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley.

McIlroy, who missed the HSBC Champions tournament won by Ian Poulter, returns to tournament action in this week’s Singapore Open, which will be followed by appearances in next week’s Hong Kong Open and then the Dubai World Championship as his inexorable march to topping the European Tour’s money list heads towards a conclusion.

The five players in closest pursuit of McIlroy on the Race to Dubai standings have all elected not to play in Singapore or Hong Kong: Peter Hanson, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Branden Grace and Ernie Els – have, in effect, conceded the title to the Ulsterman who could be out of reach by the time the ultimate event is held in the desert. Poulter, who has his eyes set on winning a Major following on a second WGC title, has decided to bypass next week’s Hong Kong Open in favour of an appearance in the Australian Masters.

McIlroy – who is joined by Pádraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey in Singapore this week – has over €750,00 to spare over Hanson and has an opportunity to put more space between himself and the Swede. A top-10 finish in Singapore would be sufficient to seal the deal with time in hand for McIlroy, who defends his title in Hong Kong next week before moving on to Dubai.

If McIlroy’s return to competition in Singapore would have all the appearances of a victory march and validation of his status as the top performer in world golf, it also represents an important run-in to the season for Lowry, attempting to move into the world’s top-50 by year end and so secure an invite to the Masters next year, and also for Harrington as he bids to follow-up his win in the four-man PGA Grand Slam.

Harrington, who remains at 61st in the world rankings, believes the win in Bermuda – “even though there was only four of us playing” – could be an important stepping stone.

“All the same feelings were there (in trying to close a win),” he observed. “It was good to have those feelings and to hole the putts when I had to.”

It is all of four years, though, since Harrington has won a full tournament on the European Tour or the PGA Tour (his 2009 win in the Johor Open wasn’t sanctioned by the European Tour at the time) and he has, as he put it, “realised (wins) don’t come around that often, so it is important to enjoy them when they do.

“I believe I’m playing really good golf,” said Harrington. “I do believe I’m turning the corner into a peak.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of winning and winning Majors. They are not that easy to come by. It was pretty tough for me after 2007 and by the end of 2008, it seemed quite easy.  I do believe I’m going into a nice period in my career now, and I’m looking forward to good successes.”

Lowry’s impressive run of form has set him up for a strong finish to the season. Peter Lawrie, though, has passed up on the opportunity to play in Singapore. Graeme McDowell takes a week out before resuming duties at next week’s Australian Masters before heading to Dubai for the season’s finale.

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