Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Make or break' for McIlroy

Rory confident hard work on short game can earn Dubai spot as he jumps to Tiger defence over 'cheat' row, writes Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy remains confident he can win in Shanghai this week and qualify for the season's finale in Dubai, despite the fact that he has not won a tournament all season.

"It's a big week, obviously, it's sort of make or break," the Co Down man, who faces a field featuring 40 of the world's top 50 in the WGC-HSBC Champions event at Sheshan, said. "If I don't play good enough here, then there's a good chance I won't play in Dubai. I think there's a bigger chance of me winning this tournament than not playing in Dubai, I feel."

McIlroy is not scheduled to take part in next week's Turkish Airlines Open so he must climb into the top 60 in the Race to Dubai this week to have a chance of qualifying for the DP World Tour Championship, starting on November 14.

He lies in 62nd place, less than €4,000 behind Garth Mulroy in 60th, but because he will not be playing in Turkey he will need to win much more than that to feel assured of qualifying. He can at least take confidence from a one-shot victory over Tiger Woods in their 18-hole exhibition at Mission Hills on Monday.

"I'm looking forward to going out there and playing well," added McIlroy.

CHANCE

"I feel like I'm capable of winning this golf tournament and I feel like my game's coming together nicely. I did a little short-game work over the last couple of days and I feel like if I can get that part of my game where it needs to be, then I've got a good chance."

He is helped by the fact that he feels comfortable at the Chinese course. "I'm really glad that this tournament is back here at Sheshan. It's a golf course that I've done well on. It's one of my favourite venues of the year, quite honestly.

"Of course I expect myself to be a lot higher than that (62nd). I won the Race to Dubai last year and I was second in 2011 and I was second in 2009.

"So I've been a factor in it for the last few years and to be down where I am obviously doesn't feel too good and is a reflection of how my year has gone. It's just the reality, and the reality is I haven't played well enough to be a factor."

McIlroy also could not resist entering the row over American analyst Brandel Chamblee's insinuation that Woods was a cheat, after the 14-time Major champion's multiple rules infractions this season.

"I say Brandel was completely wrong and I don't expect he has the authority to say anything bad about Tiger," McIlroy argued. "I am completely against what he said and I expect him to be dealt with in the right way."

A day after being dropped by computer game giant EA, Woods also received a stern rebuke from HSBC's most senior golf executive for his decision to snub the WGC, while accepting a €2.3m appearance fee to face McIlroy earlier this week.

"For a meaningless game in China to take place only a few days before is disappointing," said Giles Morgan, the bank's global head of sponsorship. "This tournament has to be bigger than the individual."

The suggestion from Morgan was that Woods had displayed a lack of respect towards one of the game's leading sponsors by skipping the event while performing a series of commercial junkets in Macau. It is the second year running that the world No 1 has bypassed the final WGC of the season – the only one of the four he has never won – on a dubious pretext, after citing "corporate stuff" in Singapore as his reason for absence 12 months ago.

"We are disappointed not to have Tiger here," Morgan added. "Ultimately he is a freelance agent, so it is his decision to do as he likes. I just feel that this tournament has an important role to take golf into an entirely different part of the world.

"It builds off the Olympic story in China and all the top players in the world have a responsibility, to an extent, to support it. Sponsors of our size deserve a modicum of respect."

HSBC's frustration with the lucrative exhibition contests that have sprung up on the autumn swing of the golf circuit is evident, with Woods choosing to miss the most significant event in favour of collecting colossal fees just for turning up at the shoot-out with McIlroy and at the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya next week.

"There could be some tightening of the rules," Morgan said. "Where we have the disappointment is that with Tiger, we have created something that everybody is quite proud about. Golf is now showcasing itself on the other side of the world, away from the traditional heartlands. I feel that Tiger is missing out."

Meanwhile, a decision is expected today on the future of Simon Dyson, disqualified in last week's BMW Masters for tapping down a spike mark with his golf ball during the third round at Lake Malaren. The Yorkshireman, who has won six times on tour, is likely to be punished severely, with up to a four-month ban after rules officials collected evidence on other violations he has committed this year.

WGC-HSBC Champions,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 3.0am

Irish Independent

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