Tuesday 28 February 2017

McIlroy's challengers fail to knock him off his number one slot

William S Callahan

Kristoffer Broberg of Sweden poses with the trophy after winning the BMW Masters in Shanghai
Kristoffer Broberg of Sweden poses with the trophy after winning the BMW Masters in Shanghai

RoryY McIlroy took a week off, but still kept his chances of remaining number one in Europe very much alive without hitting a shot at the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren GC in Shanghai.

McIlroy's closest challengers failed to take a psychological and material advantage into the European Tour's exciting climax to the campaign in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai starting on Thursday.

Danny Willett, Justin Rose, and Shane Lowry all went to China with ambitions of cutting into McIlroy's dominant position, but by the end of play none of them had done enough.

The tournament title was won by Sweden's Kristoffer Broberg, who beat Patrick Reed of the USA in a playoff after both players finished on 17-under-par.

Broberg's birdie at the first playoff hole, the 18th, earned him the top prize of €1,070,334, and jumped him 49 places in the rankings from 61st to 12th.

Shane Lowry, who still has a chance of glory in Dubai, finished on one-under-par 287 after shooting a 68 on the final day.

Ryder Cup 2014 captain Paul McGinley went one better by closing with 71 for 286 - two-under-par.

The focus now goes on to Dubai and McIlroy's bid to close out a season disrupted by a torn ankle ligament on a high note.

He would have been overtaken by Willett if the Englishman had finished alone in 28th or better in Shanghai.

However, a final round of 70 at Lake Malaren left Willett in a tie for 28th with two other players as he looks to finish the year as European number one for the first time.

A total of seven players can still win the Race to Dubai, although Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace need to finish second or better at Jumeirah Golf Estates, while Byeong Hun An has to be first.

"Last week was pretty stale - obviously I had a good last round - and this week's just been stale again," said Willett, who carded a closing 62 to finish third in the HSBC Champions.

"I putted pretty poorly for four days. I never really got anything going. It's close though and I guess you can look at it as if I go there next week and I win, I win.

"It's one of those good situations to be in. I've got a day and a half off to regroup and chill out and I know I'm going to have a chance next week."

McIlroy has held top spot since finishing fourth in the Masters in April, pulling clear of the pack with victory in the WGC-Cadillac Match Play three weeks later.

Justin Rose, who followed up his victory in the Hong Kong Open with a share of seventh in the BMW Masters, said: "I always knew I was going to have to win one of these two weeks, so hopefully I'm deferring and can finish it off on the grand stage in Dubai."

Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell shot a hat-trick of birdies in the final round of the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico on holes five, six, and seven, to lie just two shots off the lead held by Jason Bohn and Russell Knox.

The top two were at 18-under-par, while McDowell was at 16-under - but heavy rainfall flooded parts of the course and play was suspended.

Officials were hoping they could get the tournament finished on schedule because today's forecast is poor. However, those hopes were dashed as darkness decended.

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