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Litmus test for Rory's bid to match Tiger's Major haul

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World number one Rory McIlroy

World number one Rory McIlroy

PA

World number one Rory McIlroy

Flintstones, meet the Flintstones. That tune has been rattling about in many a head at the DP World Tour Championship, inspired by the yawning rock cavern (and waterfall) which has appeared this year just behind the 18th green on the Earth Course.

It looks uncannily like something you'd find in the cartoon town of Bedrock, a place right out of history.

Any 'history' made at Jumeirah Golf Estates, which has hosted the Race to Dubai climax since both opened for business in 2009, has been made not by club-swinging cavemen but golfers.

There's nothing primitive about this opulent oasis in the Arabian Desert.

Indeed, if ever there was a sign that recession at last has relaxed its grip on Dubai, it is people clamouring to buy houses overlooking the course for between ¤750,000 and ¤2.4m - plus the long-awaited opening of the vast, palatial clubhouse here.

Essentially, the golf is the same but there's a new air of sophistication about this place.

An interesting analogy can be drawn with Rory McIlroy.

Approaching the end of his greatest season by far, the Holywood star is playing to the same exalted level as 2012 - if not above it - when he blew past Justin Rose and on to victory in the tournament and the Race to Dubai with a sensational five-birdie finish.

This year, however, McIlroy exudes a different aura.

Rededicated

After a succession of hard knocks in 2013, he clearly rededicated himself to golf, then increased his workload to fill any void left by the sudden termination in May of his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki.

Though McIlroy has drawn confidence from a potent combination of rock-solid technique and core strength and fitness, perhaps the most impressive feature of his campaign in 2014 has been his mental toughness.

Adversity on the golf course - and there was plenty of it from the Masters to Memorial and Sawgrass to the last in a spooky series of Black Fridays at the Scottish Open - was met head-on. No pouting; shoulders stayed square this year as maturity brought with it a keener appetite for the fight.

McIlroy has always been blessed with enough raw talent to get to World No 1 but this year he has developed the Tiger-like resolve and resilience to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Having spectacularly lived up to a tongue-in-cheek pledge made 140 miles down the Emirates Highway in Abu Dhabi last January to win two Majors this year, The Open and US PGA, McIlroy's second Race to Dubai title already is secure.

The Ulsterman was so far out in front, he afforded himself a 'break' of just over six weeks, skipping the first three legs of the European Tour's dollar-rich Final Series and leaving his predecessor as Race to Dubai champion, Henrik Stenson, to squabble over second place with Jamie Donaldson, Marcel Siem and Sergio Garcia.

The Race is run but there's a fascinating sub-plot to McIlroy's efforts this week on the Earth Course.

The Ulsterman played in the fortnight before all but one of his 17 wins as a professional, the exception being the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship, when, after a three-week break, he found it tough to get going over the first 36 holes, made the cut on the mark, then knifed through the field with weekend rounds of 66 and 62.

Though he appears to be able to score birdies at will here, completing 20 rounds in a stunning 76-under par, McIlroy surely cannot be expected to hit the ground running after nearly seven weeks 'off' and beat a select 60-man field featuring other Earth Course specialists like Rose, Stenson and two-time runner-up Ian Poulter.

Well, that's precisely what Woods used do. So comprehensive was Tiger's practice regime at home, he expected to win every time he turned up, whether it was the first event of the new season or, in the case of his most recent Major win at the 2008 US Open, after two months on the sideline.

This sometimes allowed Woods forego a 'warm-up' event, helping him limit his annual schedule to under 22 events, and conserve energy for the those that mattered most, the Majors.

McIlroy's prospects of matching Tiger's 14 Majors will be enhanced if he achieves his ambition to trim his schedule to similar levels, a task made more complex by his membership both of the European and US Tours.

The physical effort of playing golf tournaments offers little stress to a player who can lift weights which, in pictures posted by McIlroy on Twitter yesterday, look like train wheels and axles. Instead, the mental pressure of contending at every event he plays exacts a heavy toll.

"It can be quite draining playing week in, week out," McIlroy confirms, explaining how over the past fortnight in Dubai, he has practised and trained well enough to feel confident about his prospects this weekend.

"I feel if you put in enough good work away from tournaments and your preparation is right, you practise well, get on the course enough and don't just hit balls every day, by the time of the event, you should be ready to go."

We may find out this week if McIlroy has the exceptional mental discipline necessary to make that formula work as well for him as it did for Woods.

If he defies convention and wins on Sunday, we'll know this Irish Tiger is capable making Major history of his own.

DP World Tour Championship, live, Sky Sports 4, 8.00am

Irish Independent