Sport Golf

Sunday 11 December 2016

McIlroy faces fight for Dubai top spot

Oliver Brown

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy during the final round of the WGC in Shanghai, China, yesterday
Rory McIlroy during the final round of the WGC in Shanghai, China, yesterday

Rory McIlroy recovered from a topsy-turvy weekend to finish just six shots behind surprise winner Russell Knox in the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai, but his No 1 spot in the European Tour's Race to Dubai is now in jeopardy.

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McIlroy will not feature in next week's BMW Masters and if second-placed Danny Willett can claim a top-25 finish there, he will leapfrog the Holywood golfer in the rankings ahead of the Dubai finale.

World No 3 McIlroy carded seven birdies on the final day to finish in a share of 11th place (-14) and feels he is inching closer to winning form.

"I feel like I played well enough to win this week. I just didn't hole enough putts and that's sort of been the story of my season, well, at least, for the last couple of months anyway," he said.

"But it's getting better. I feel like every tournament I play, I'm getting a little bit better and hopefully I can continue in that trend and go into Dubai and play well again."

The in-form Willett equalled the course record with a 62 to take third, but the real stroy was Scotsman Knox, who became the first man to win a WGC event on debut since Jeff Maggert in the WGC's first event in 1999.

Prayer

A week ago, Knox had not even been given his Chinese visa, let alone a prayer of victory, in a field that included McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

But last night he was going through Shanghai customs clutching a £900,000 winner's cheque and a maiden WGC title, despite initially being the seventh reserve.

"I still can't quite believe I'm here," said Knox, who immediately thanked wife Andrea for the last-minute bureaucracy that allowed him to compete at Sheshan in the first place.

"I owe her everything for this. I had not committed to the tournament, because I thought I had no chance of getting in," a delighted Knox said.

"Andrea filled out all the paperwork for my caddie, Bradley, and I. She was at the Chinese Embassy all day. She's a superstar, and she is the reason I am sitting here now."

Andrea also caddied for her husband during one madly rushed practice session, but one would not have guessed at the backdrop of chaos from his nerveless performance.

The 30-year-old produced a beautifully composed final round of 70 to beat American Kevin Kisner by two and leave the chasing pack in his wake.

This morning, a golfer who has played in only four majors - making the cut in just one - wakes up in the knowledge that he will soon receive an invitation to next year's Masters at Augusta.

For a decade, Knox toiled at the extremities of the US circuit, having forsaken home for a golf scholarship in Jacksonville, Florida.

Even with just a solitary second-tier win to show for his US travails, Knox never lost hope that his aspirations would come to such spectacular fruition as he was a model of composure when it mattered most.

Knox dealt with the physical and mental strain superbly despite being the only player to finish his third round yesterday after being forced off in the dusk of Saturday night.

When a rare dropped shot at the ninth vaulted him back into a four-way tie for the lead alongside Willett, Ross Fisher and Kisner, it wasn't for long with birdies at 10 and 11.

The clincher came at the 16th with a wedge to within 12 feet and he clenched his fist when his putt dropped for birdie. He held a three-shot lead and kept it together to win by two.

"I joked with my team that my first win would be a big one," he concluded. "I guess you could say this is pretty big." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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