Westwood had to win the tournament to overtake the Irish tyro and that’s what he did, shooting 23 under par to earn the first prize of €830,675 and the Race to Dubai bonus of €996,910.
Now another Irishman, Graeme McDowell, hopes to go one better than McIlroy and even though the odds are very much against him catching leader Martin Kaymer, Westwood’s achievement in 2009 proves that it can also be done.
McDowell’s recent consistency has narrowed the gap between himself and the German.
Over a million points separated the pair when they contested the Andalucia Masters at the end of October.
McDowell won that event to almost half the deficit. Though he could do no better than 34th in the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament, he came third in the Barclays Singapore Open and fifth in Hong Kong at the weekend.
The gap between them is 290,911 points with McDowell on a roll.
There is a view that could well prove justified that he may be running out of steam at the end of a long season, all the more so because he has contested each of the last four events as opposed to Kaymer, who took Hong Kong off and should arrive in Dubai rested.
A win will certainly do the trick for McDowell although a top three finish may suffice should Kaymer finish down the field.
While the Greg Norman Earth Course in Dubai measures a massive 7,700 yards with more than 20 lakes and 3,500 mature trees strategically planted to create the impression of a long established lay-out, it was easily tamed last year. Westwood closed with 64 for 23 under and a six shot advantage over Ross McGowan with McIlroy next best on 15 under.
Graeme McDowell will have to finish in the top three in Dubai just to have a chance of denying Kaymer the European Tour number one spot. There is a difference of €291,000 between the two Major winners. Fourth place next Sunday is worth €274,000 and therefore not enough even if Kaymer finishes last.
If GMac were to come third (worth €356,000) Kaymer would only have to be 20th to stay top, but if Graeme finished second (€609,000) the German would need to be third. Finally, if GMac were to take the €914,00 first prize then the Order of Merit title will be his as well.
The only Irishmen to have captured the Harry Vardon Trophy awarded to the leading player on the European Tour are Christy O’Connor Senior, 1961 and ‘62; Ronan Rafferty, 1989, and Padraig Harrington, 2006.
While Harrington is in 18th place, he will be more than anxious to finish the campaign on a high note with his only victory since the 2008 USPGA coming in the low key Iskandar Johor Open in October. He tied for 4th last year and will assuredly figure prominently. Harrington ran up two sevens at par fours on his way to missing the cut in his most recent outing, the Barclays Open in Singapore.
The presence of seven Irishmen, McDowell (2nd, €2, 993, 019), McIlroy (12th, 1, 483, 704), Harrington (18th, 1, 108, 967); Darren Clarke (31st, 842, 956); Damien McGrane (35th, 766, 879) Gareth Maybin (36th, 765, 505) and Peter Lawrie (37th, 761, 055), in the Dubai field is its own testimony to the strength of the game in this country.
Unfortunately, Shane Lowry missed out by two spots on Dubai after finishing 62nd with earnings of €501, 728 while Michael Hoey is 90th with €322, 120. All nine are safely into next year’s European Tour as is Paul McGinley, who closed in 124th spot with €155, 750 but also qualifies through his career earnings and achievements.
TWELVE more hope to make it through the nerve wracking Tour School qualifiers with the second stage set for four venues in Spain from Friday through Monday before the decisive six day “final” in the first week of December.
Niall Turner (Muskerry) tries his luck at Hacienda Del Alamo; Ulstermen Stephen Grant and Barrie Trainor and Kilkenny’s Gary Murphy are at El Valle; Mallow’s Mervyn Owens and three more Ulster players, Michael McGeady, Jonathan Caldwell and Gareth Shaw are in the field at Arcos Gardens, while Niall Kearney (Royal Dublin), Damien Mooney from Belfast, David Mortimer (Galway) and Michael Collins (Mallow), tee up at Costa Ballena.