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Monday 19 February 2018

McIlroy worlds apart from Davies

Rory McIlroy is looking forward to defending his title in Hong Kong this week
Rory McIlroy is looking forward to defending his title in Hong Kong this week

Rory McIlroy and Rhys Davies, Walker Cup team-mates five years ago, are back together for the Northern Irishman's defence of the UBS Hong Kong Open this week - but there the similarity ends for the time being.

While world number one McIlroy is celebrating topping the European and American tour money lists amid reports of a new £156million sponsorship deal, every penny could matter to Davies over the coming four days.

The 27-year-old Welshman stands 119th on the Order of Merit and it will be the top 119 who retain their cards come Sunday night. Normally the cut-off point is 115, but past winners John Daly and Liang Wen-chong and affiliate members Martin Laird and Prom Meesawat are excluded from the final analysis.

Even as the event finishes Davies may not know if he faces a return to the qualifying school for several hours. The South African Open also counts and many of those hoping to overtake him are competing there. For example, England's Tommy Fleetwood - winner of last year's Challenge Tour - is only £2,225 behind in 124th spot.

Given he was being tipped as a possible Ryder Cup player two years ago, this season has been a huge disappointment for former amateur star Davies. He has missed five of his last six cuts, but the exception to that was a joint fifth place at the Perth International four weeks ago and he went into that 131st.

Fellow Welshman Bradley Dredge, a World Cup winner seven years ago and an ever-present in Europe's top 100 since 1999, is also in Hong Kong fighting for his future.

The 39-year-old is 121st on the standings £604 behind Davies and is no longer able to fall back on his career earnings of almost £6million to preserve his membership of the circuit if he fails to move up at least two positions. The top 40 in that category also earn cards, but Dredge has slipped from 40th to 42nd this year.

McIlroy need never worry about money ever again, of course, and starts as a strong favourite on the same Fanling course where he won last December by holing a bunker shot on the final hole. The 23-year-old appears to like going in for the dramatic - the money list double was clinched in Singapore last Sunday by him making a 30-foot eagle putt.

"Hong Kong has always been a place I've enjoyed coming to," said McIlroy, who has also had two seconds and a sixth place finish in the tournament. "This week will be extra special after wrapping up the 'Race to Dubai' and I can't wait to tee up as the defending champion. There will definitely be an added spring in my step.

"I love tree-lined courses and Hong Kong is definitely one of my favourites anywhere in the world. When you've played well and won on a course you're always looking forward to going back."

Press Association

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