McIlroy gearing up for Hong Kong challenge

Race to Dubai contenders Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy headline the field at the Hong Kong Open but smaller battles will also unfold in Fanling this week.

Race to Dubai contenders Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy headline the field at the Hong Kong Open but smaller battles will also unfold in Fanling this week.

McIlroy sits €52,321 adrift of money-list leader Westwood heading into the penultimate event of the season, with both in good form following a string of top-10 finishes.

New world number four Westwood, 36, is keen to hang onto pole position ahead of next week’s crucial season-ending Dubai World Championship with a win on his first visit to Hong Kong Golf Club.

The 2000 Order of Merit winner said: “I have watched it on TV over the years. It is very tight and tree-lined. Same as most other courses we play in that if you hit it straight, get it in position and hole a few putts, you generally do well.

“There is big prize money next week but it will certainly help to win here this week. I am not thinking about the money list this week but thinking more about the Hong Kong Open as it is a very old and prestigious tournament and one I have never won.”

McIlroy, 20, was the runner-up last year after just losing out in a thrilling play-off and is keen to go one better to remain in the hunt for a maiden money-list title in only his second full season.

“These two weeks are going to be very good. Hong Kong I love coming to. It’s my fifth year coming here – twice as an amateur and then this is my third Hong Kong Open,” said the world number 17, who announced yesterday he would be taking up a full US PGA Tour card next season.

“I love the city and golf course. It is one of my favourite weeks of the year. Winning this event will take care of catching Lee so that’s what I am focusing on.”

Oliver Wilson, Simon Dyson, Singapore Open champion Ian Poulter, Soren Kjeldsen and Francesco Molinari are all currently ranked inside the top 15 in the Race to Dubai and looking to improve their positions this week.

The likes of Bradley Dredge, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Dodd are hoping to hang onto qualifying spots, while Darren Clarke and Castello Masters champion Michael Jonzon are looking to break into the top 60 to ensure a place at the lucrative season-ending showpiece.

While all these players are assured of their Tour cards for next season, Hong Kong represents the last chance for a large contingent to secure their spots.

The issue is complicated by the co-sanctioned JBWere Masters also taking place this week in Australia but Oliver Fisher knows 43rd place is a minimum this week.

Fisher was rated higher than McIlroy as a junior but, while the Northern Irishman claimed his maiden career title in Dubai earlier this year, Fisher has failed to follow up last year’s 51st place on the money list.

With the threat of losing his card hanging over him, Fisher has produced strong performances over his last three events after missing the cut in his previous seven.

Simon Khan, the 2004 Celtic Manor Wales Open champion, must finish at least ninth, while 2005 Volvo PGA Championship winner Scott Drummond must claim at least seventh with his five-year exemption set to run out.

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