There was a time when professional golf went into hibernation for a good six months with the arrival of October.
Nowadays, in total contrast, the coming six weeks or so are known as “the wheelbarrow tour”, in other words this is the time of year for the pros to make their way to Asia and fill their coffers with the enormous sums of money on offer there.
Having kicked off the series with the recent unofficial $7m matchplay event in Turkey, they are turning up in force this week for yet another $7 million tournament, the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren, a superb lay-out near Shanghai, and one that could have a major bearing on this year’s Race to Dubai order of merit on the European Tour.
Rory McIlroy is 437,334 points ahead of nearest rival Justin Rose, and while that may seem a safe enough margin, the Englishman has good reason to keep up his hopes of making up the deficit considering the riches and points that lie in wait.
Still to come are: November 1, WGC-HSBC Champions, Shengzhen ($7m); November 8, Barclays Singapore Open ($6m); Nov 15, Hong Kong Open ($2m); November 22, DP World Tour Championship, Dubai ($8m).
“This would be a big week in which to outplay Rory,” said Rose, one of the stars of Europe’s Ryder Cup triumph in Chicago.
“I am very determined to play well in Shanghai because I would love to be Europe’s best player once again. There aren’t too many who have won the Harry Vardon Trophy twice in their careers and it would be a real honour to do so.”
It won’t be easy for either McIlroy or Rose given the strength of the field with only Sergio Garcia of the triumphant European team missing.
Lake Malaren was designed by Jack Nicklaus and received rave reviews when it was used for tournament play for the first time last year. McIlroy overcame American Anthony Kim in a sudden-death play-off to secure the Lake Malaren Masters. The event was unofficial and not recognised by any of golf’s professional bodies but it has now become the BMW Masters and fully sanctioned on the European Tour.
McIlroy clearly demonstrated his liking for the 7,607 yards Nicklaus design 12 months ago when he shot three almost faultless rounds of 64, 69 and 65 before a level par 72 on the final day allowed the American Anthony Kim to force a play-off which Rory won to pick up a then record prize of $2 million.
“I can’t wait to return to Shanghai because the Chinese fans have always supported me over the years,” said Rory.
“I have had some great results there in recent years, obviously including a win during my first visit to Lake Malaren last October.”
This week’s elite 78 strong field includes all but Garcia of the successful European Ryder Cup team along with the powerful South African trio of Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace. McIlroy is joined by fellow Irishmen Darren Clarke, Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey.
Pádraig Harrington’s original intention was to play at Lake Malaren but he has since accepted an invitation to replace Ernie Els — who with has a sprained ankle — in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf taking place over 36 holes today and tomorrow at the spectacularly located Port Royal lay-out in Bermuda.
McIlroy, winner of the US PGA championship, signalled early on that he was committed to China and so couldn’t take in the Grand Slam. US Masters and Open champions Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson along with Keegan Bradley will be there and when Els withdrew, the US PGA who run the Grand Slam event sounded out Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell before coming up with Harrington.
“I played the Grand Slam in 2007 and ‘08 and lost in play-offs to Angel Cabrera and Jim Furyk so hopefully this will be a case of third time lucky”, said Pádraig.
The Grand Slam purse amounts to $1.35m ($600,000 for the winner, $300,000 for the runner-up and $250,000 and $200,000 for third and fourth and is the equivalent of the winner’s cheque at Lake Malaren.
McIlroy and Woods clash in a showdown in Shanghai on Monday next with both set to benefit by at least another million dollars apiece.
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