McIlroy in pole position as rivals head for home

Rory McIlroy’s goal of ending the season as European No. 1 has received a huge boost with his five nearest rivals, including closest challenger Peter Hanson, deciding not to contest two of the last three events on this year’s schedule.

Organisers of this week’s $6m (€4.6m) co-sanctioned Barclays Singapore Open were holding an invitation for Hanson after Dubliner Peter Lawrie, who was among eight players initially invited, elected not to travel.

However Hanson has declined and returned to his Orlando residence before competing for the season-ending event in Dubai.

Hanson remains second on the Race to Dubai and €764,776 behind McIlroy after finishing well behind Ian Poulter in yesterday’s WGC–HSBC Champions.

Poulter, who is now fourth on the money list and €940,977 adrift of McIlroy, came from four strokes back to capture a second WGC title by two strokes with a second straight 65 on the Olazabal Course at Mission Hills in Shenzhen.

McIlroy tees up this week in Singapore and in the knowledge Hanson, Justin Rose (third), Poulter (fourth), Branden Grace (fifth) and Ernie Els (sixth) will not play in either Singapore or the penultimate event, the UBS Hong Kong Open.

Poulter ruled out any likelihood of adding Singapore to his schedule and was aboard the same flight to Orlando with Hanson and also Rose.

“I’ve been on the road three weeks now since playing the India Open and that’s a long enough time to be away from my young family and they’re more important,” said Hanson.

“In the bigger picture, I still have plenty of years to win the Race to Dubai and besides, given the way Rory has played this year, I feel as though he deserves to end the year number one.

“It’s disappointing that it won’t sort of add spice to these next two events but then given the season I’ve had, winning the KLM Open, playing in a winning Ryder Cup team and beating Rory last week in Shanghai, to win three out of four, I have to be very happy.”

Shane Lowry will join McIlroy in Singapore and while he’s now just a handful of places from his goal of a World Top 50 ranking, the Esker Hills golfer is also just €3,461 away from earning €1m in a single season.

But while Lowry found himself mobbed for autographs for three days in Shenzhen he was hardly in a signing mood, slipping from a third round share of 15th to drop four shots in his last two holes in a score of 75 for an eventual tie for 32nd on seven under.

Graeme McDowell, who carded a last round 72 to share 42nd spot, was also aboard the Orlando flight and has a week off before competing in the Australian Masters in Melbourne.

And thanks to the work of an ex-British Army surgeon, Lt Colonel Tim Swan, McDowell is confident the injured ring finger of his right hand will have healed ahead of teeing up at the famed Kingston Heath course.

“I just kind of felt embarrassed explaining to him what happened as he used to be one of the top amputee surgeons with the British army, and I went to him saying I’ve got a sore finger,” said McDowell.

“But after the injury put paid to my weekend here in China, all is good with my hand and it’s recovering very quickly so after a week off I will be as right as rain and I’ll jump on a plane and head to Australia.

“The funny thing is that I’ve read some of the Irish press and they’re reported my career is over and it’s time to get a job.” McDowell dropped three spots to 10th on the Race to Dubai while Lawrie has slipped to 61st and one place outside the Dubai World Championship and needing a decent result in Hong Kong so as to qualify for the $8m season decider.

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