CHARLIE MULQUEEN: Pressure mounts as McDowell and Harrington on the slide

Rory McIlroy has clung onto his spot at the summit of the world rankings despite missing the cut at The Players Championship on Friday night.

On Sunday it looked as if the fast finishing Luke Donald would again usurp the young Irishman at the head of affairs but the Englishman’s excellent 66 for nine under wasn’t enough to secure him the tie for the 4th place finish he required to regain the number one crown.

The pair renew rivalry next week when the European Tour’s flagship tournament, the BMW PGA Championship, is held at Wentworth.

McIlroy, Donald, Lee Westwood and Bubba Watson, the current top four, will be nervously glancing over their shoulders given that Matt Kuchar, the Sawgrass champion, is now up to 5th in the rankings while Rickie Fowler, a first time winner last week at Quail Hollow and tied second on Sunday night is also zooming up the list.

Whereas McIlroy can enjoy this week watching his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki compete in the Rome Masters, Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington are left wondering where their careers are headed. Harrington’s failure to survive the cut at Sawgrass was especially disappointing after he opened on Thursday with a three under par 69. But whatever confidence he had in his putting vanished completely on the following day and he is now 95th in the world and dangerously close to dropping out of the top 100. The Stackstown golfer heads to Irving, Texas, for this week’s Byron Nelson Classic.

McDowell missed the weekend at the Players Championship by a shot and is now 20th in the rankings having opened the year in 13th.

The Ulster man is back in Europe this week for the Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesin in the south of Spain on Thursday.

The 24 players are divided into eight groups of three who will meet each other over the first two days before the best 16 go forward to the knock-out stages over the weekend.

They are chasing a total pot of €2.75m, €700, 000 for the winner, €360, 000 for the runner-up, €180, 000 for the beaten semi-finalists all the way down to a cool €50, 000 for just turning up and not winning a match.

McDowell and Darren Clarke represent the direct Irish interest in the event.

However, in a change from last year, only the best ranked 16 players have been seeded for the group stage while the remaining eight go into a draw today to join them. As a result, Clarke (70 in the rankings) is still waiting to discover his opponents.

McDowell comes up against Robert Karlsson, who was drafted in on Sunday when Paul Casey had to decline his invitation because of a recurrence of a shoulder injury that also ruled him out last week.

Sergio Garcia and Alvaro Quiros have been drawn against each other in an all-Spanish confrontation and Justin Rose faces Englishman Robert Rock. Defending champion Ian Poulter has Australian John Senden in his group while the top ranked player, number nine Martin Kaymer, meets Rafael Cabrera-Bello, the other Spanish player in the line-up. The matches drawn so far are: Martin Kaymer v Raphael Cabrera Bello; Justin Rose v Robert Rock; Charl Schwartzel v Nicolas Colsaerts; Graeme McDowell v Robert Karlsson; Sergio Garcia v Alvaro Quiros; Peter Hanson v Paul Lawrie; Brandt Snedeker v Thomas Bjorn; Ian Poulter v John Senden.


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