Rory McIlroy cannot end his week as the Race to Dubai winner for a fourth time but he is perfectly at ease with the scenario even if it is one that may disappoint the European Tour.
McIlroy begins this week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship sixth in the order of merit but too far adrift of Bernd Wiesberger to overhaul the Austrian. Wiesberger, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick will contest the overall prize.
Had McIlroy taken out European Tour membership at the start of the year – he instead waited until close to a deadline in May – high finishes in World Golf Championships and the Masters would have afforded him a different situation heading into this week. This is not, however, a matter which remotely vexes Europe’s most high profile golfer. McIlroy’s four worldwide victories in 2019 justify his overall approach.
McIlroy issued a firm “no” when asked if his Race to Dubai position was in any way frustrating. He added: “I’ve won it three times. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do it but I just haven’t played enough European Tour events. I haven’t played enough counting European Tour events to have a chance, so no. I haven’t played enough and you look at someone like a Bernd Wiesberger that’s played 25, 26, 27 times – those are the guys that deserve to be up there with a chance to win.”
McIlroy will have a new caddie for one week only, with his regular bag man Harry Diamond on a planned break following the birth of his daughter. Niall O’Connor, a former Ulster rugby player and long-time friend of McIlroy, will assume duties in Dubai.
“If there’s any week where I don’t have Harry on the bag, it’s good it’s this week,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I could play this place blindfolded. I’ve been coming back here for 10 years, I know the place like the back of my hand. Hopefully I can play well for the first few days and we’ll get into the heat of battle on the weekend. That will be something that will be fun for both of us.”
Race to Dubai glory would fittingly conclude a Lowry year which was kicked off by success in nearby Abu Dhabi and peaked with victory at the Open Championship. The Irishman broke with convention when assessing the psychology of a first-time major winner.
“That’s the incredible thing, since the Open, I actually don’t feel any different. If you had told me before, were things going to change and would you feel different, I would have said yes,” he said. “I don’t feel any different. I don’t feel any different as a player, as a person. Honestly I don’t feel like it’s changed me in any way. It’s obviously changed my career path a little bit, but as a person, I don’t feel any different.”