Saturday 18 January 2020

'Rusty' Rory is hopeful of Euro title win

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy

Liam Kelly

Rory McIlroy has the FedEx Cup safely tucked away, and now his sights are set on retaining Europe's Race To Dubai (R2D) title.

McIlroy resumes his bid to claim the number one status on both sides of the Atlantic at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, tomorrow after a three-week break following the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.

McIlroy's topsy-turvey 2016 has turned in his favour, with disappointment in all four Majors followed by stunning success at the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship and the Tour Championship at East Lake last month.

Those victories, with the latter being claimed in dramatic fashion after a three-hole play-off with Ryan Moore, gave McIlroy his first FedEx Cup title.

He is now ready for action again, although the four-time major champion expects to be a little ring-rusty on his competitive return.

The gap between McIlroy in third position and the R2D leader, Danny Willett, is over a million euro.

Olympic champion Henrik Stenson lies in second place, and he would love to upset the apple cart by coming through to take the title at the expense of his Ryder Cup colleagues.

McIlroy, however, has other ideas.

"I'm excited to be back in Shanghai. It's a place I have done well at before, and my game is feeling good," he said.

"I'm coming off the back of three weeks off, so there might be a little bit of rust - but I'm working through that.

"There's a lot to play for with the Race to Dubai on the line and trying to creep my way back up that gradually.

"I've sort of got used to ending the season on a bit of a high in Dubai, and I'd really love to have that feeling of capping off the year as best as I possibly could," he said.

The opposition is formidable. Eight of the top 10 in the World Rankings have turned up, including Dustin Johnson, the US Open champion and PGA of America Player of the Year.

In total, 40 of the top 50 in the world will compete on the par 72, 7,261-yard Sheshan International course in a field of 78 starters.

Shane Lowry, the only other Irish player in the tournament, flew to China on Sunday.

His last two results were tied-18th at the Dunhill Links, and tied-41st at the British Masters, but the man from Offaly is optimistic.

He revealed that he has recently engaged the services of sports psychologist Gerry Hussey and is happy with the work they have done to date.

Lowry (29) spoke at the US PGA championship about not enjoying his golf, but his intention now is to adopt a more positive attitude.

"When you're going through a bad time and you're playing badly, it's hard to enjoy your golf," he admitted.

"But one of the reasons why you are playing badly is because you're not enjoying your golf, so it's a bit of a vicious circle. The harder you try to enjoy it, the harder it is to enjoy.

"You've just got to let it take its course, and one of the things I do is take a break to try and get the hunger back."

Lowry and McIlroy will tee off tomorrow morning at 3am and 3.50am respectively (Irish time).

China's Ashun Wu and Francesco Molinari are with Lowry, while Bubba Watson and Adam Scott join McIlroy in one of the marquee groups.

Elsewhere, on the Challenge Tour, Jack Hume - who recently turned pro - competes in the Ras Al Khaimah 2016 Golf Challenge in the United Arab Emirates.

Naas member Hume received a sponsor's invitation and will hope to make the most of the opportunity.

This is the penultimate event of the Challenge Tour's season and it starts today, finishing on Saturday.

A total of 105 players will be battling for a share of the $350,000 prize fund.

Hume and former Walker Cup team-mates Gary Hurley and Cormac Sharvin are joined by Chris Selfridge to complete the Irish contingent.

Seamus Power from Waterford plays the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson, Mississippi, tomorrow.

This is his second tournament as a PGA Tour member after recently clinching his card via the Web.Com Tour.

He missed the cut in the recent Safeway Open.

TV Golf on Thursday:

WGC-HSBC Champions

Sky Sports 4, 4.0am

Sanderson Farms Championship

Sky Sports 4, 7.30pm

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