Rory McIlroy might need to win two of his next three starts to have even a remote chance of winning the Race to Dubai for the fourth time.
But whatever about his slim hopes of closing the massive 1.88 million-point gap that separates him from Open champion Francesco Molinari, he knows from Tiger Woods’ old commercials that winning will take care of everything if he’s to get back to world No 1 next year.
Set to partner Molinari and Dustin Johnson in the $10 million, 78-man, WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International in Shanghai, the Down man has watched the No 1 spot change ten times and pass through six different pairs of hands since he last dominated the rankings in 2015.
The problem for fifth-ranked McIlroy, who has one win to his credit over the past two seasons, is that he’s so far behind new No 1 Brooks Koepka and his immediate pursuers Johnson, Justin Rose and Justin Thomas that the No 1 spot is not even a realistic goal.
“It’s not a goal, because there’s other goals that you want to attain and achieve,” McIlroy said yesterday. “I obviously want to get back to No 1, but it’s about winning golf tournaments and playing well and playing consistent golf.”
With next week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge and the DP World Tour Championship remaining, McIlroy may need two wins to trouble Ryder Cup heroes Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood in the Race to Dubai.
Rose won in Shanghai last year and used that victory as a springboard to becoming world No 1 and FedEx Cup champion, telling his manager during last year’s Pro-Am that it was “time to go on a bit of a run here.”
True to his word, he won the title, added two more before Christmas and was so consistent this season that he won the FedEx Cup and became the 22nd man to top the rankings. McIlroy has failed to turn good play into wins since he ended his near 18-month drought at Bay Hill in March.
“I’m in a much better place this year than I was this time last year,” said McIlroy, who missed last year’s event through injury but has five top 10s in six starts in Shanghai. “I’ve played very consistent golf. Maybe haven’t quite had the wins I’ve wanted but I have three tournaments this year to try to add to that, so I’m excited for this week and the next few weeks.”
He’s recharged after a three-week break following the Ryder Cup win in Paris but when it comes to the 2020 match in Whistling Straits, winning 2008 US captain Paul Azinger reckons it could be a “tall order” to beat Europe on links-style terrain.
“I agree with Nicklaus and almost think it isn’t a good idea the [home] captains should be able to set up the course,” Azinger said when asked about the Europe’s big win.
“What an advantage Europe had. Thomas Bjorn was up on the hill with his arms folded laughing his tail off watching all our guys pull out driver and drive it into that salad about that deep.”
Azinger feels Europe will be tough to beat around a links-like Whistling Straits. With McIlroy the only Irishman in action in Shanghai, Seamus Power will fly the flag on the PGA Tour in the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi.