Rory McIlroy has not won all season, has gone from world number one to sixth in the rankings and is 62nd on a European Tour money list which he won last year to go with the US equivalent and five victories, including a second major title.
But the bookmakers surprisingly agree with a buoyant McIlroy’s assertion that he is more likely to win the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai this week than miss out on the season finale in Dubai.
“It’s a big week obviously, it’s sort of make or break,” said McIlroy, who faces a field featuring 40 of the world’s top 50 at Sheshan International Golf Club.
“If I don’t play good enough here, then there’s a good chance I won’t play in Dubai. I think there’s a bigger chance of me winning this tournament than not playing in Dubai, I feel.”
With next week’s Turkish Airlines Open currently not on his schedule, McIlroy needs to climb into the top 60 on the Race to Dubai this week to have a chance of qualifying for the DP World Tour Championship in November.
The 24-year-old is less than €4,000 behind Garth Mulroy in 60th place, but by not playing in Turkey will need to win much more than that to feel safe.
The first prize of just over €1m would of course take care of everything and the two-time major winner can take confidence from his one-shot victory over Tiger Woods in their 18-hole exhibition match at Mission Hills on Monday.
“I’m looking forward to going out there and playing well,” added McIlroy, who has been backed by Woods to get back to winning ways before the end of the season.
“I feel like I’m capable of winning this golf tournament and I feel like my game’s coming together nicely.
“I did a little short game work over the last couple days and I feel like if I can get that part of my game where it needs to be, then I’ve got a good chance.
“I’m really glad that this tournament is back here at Sheshan,” he added. “It’s a golf course that I’ve done well on, as you’ve said, and it’s a golf course that I really like. It’s one of my favourite venues of the year quite honestly.
“Of course I expect myself to be a lot higher than that (62nd). I won the Race to Dubai last year and I was second in 2011 and I was second in 2009. So I’ve been a factor in it for the last few years and to be down where I am obviously doesn’t feel too good and is a reflection of how my year has gone.
“It’s just the reality and the reality is I haven’t played well enough to be a factor.”
Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson could only finish 34th in last week’s BMW Masters across the city in Lake Malaren, despite a closing 65, but the Swede slightly extended his lead over Graeme McDowell to €443,725 after McDowell finished in a tie for 53rd.
“With the preparations leading into last week I wasn’t in the shape I wanted to be, but I finished with a good score on Sunday so I feel pretty good about my game,” said FedEx Cup winner Stenson, who has been plagued by a wrist injury.
“I would be hoping to be in contention one of these last three weeks. I can’t walk around waiting for the right things to play out. I need to have some good results if I am going to finish on top and win The Race to Dubai.”
US Open champion Justin Rose is just behind McDowell in the standings as he looks to finish the year as European number one for the second time, having achieved the feat in 2007.
“To continue to win big events is obviously a huge goal and it would be nice to cap off a great year with a strong finish,” Rose said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to win my second Race to Dubai. It wasn’t the Race to Dubai in my era, it was obviously the Order of Merit, but to get my name on that trophy again would be a huge honour with so many great names who have done that.
“Henrik is chasing down history this year in terms of winning both the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai. He’s a good friend of mine and I’ll certainly be pleased for him if he’s the guy to do it, but obviously I want to make it as tough as I can for him.
“I think it’s going to take some great golf from me. This week is a huge opportunity to make big inroads as there is big prize money on offer.
“I know I’m not necessarily defending champion, but we went to Turkey last year and I managed to win the match-play style event so hopefully it will be a nice place for me to revisit.
“I’ve also got strong memories of Dubai where I finished really strong last year as Rory birdied the last five to beat me. So I feel like I’ve got good vibes going into the final three events.”
Defending champion Ian Poulter is also looking to create a little piece of history this week. If the Ryder Cup star, who also won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2010, can claim his third WGC title he would become only the second player after Woods to defend a WGC title.