RORY McIlroy and defending champion Danny Willett are hoping to sign off their impressive personal 2019 campaigns in style at the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
World No. 2 McIlroy has won four times globally during the calendar year.
But his decision no to rejoin the European Tour until after the Masters – and to skip last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge – means he cannot claim the 2019 Race to Dubai title for a fourth time this week.
McIlroy goes into the week in sixth place on the Race to Dubai and is targeting a 15th European Tour title, and with it the $3million winner’s cheque – the richest first prize in tournament golf anywhere in the world.
But after spending the first four months of the season based in the States, McIlroy, who had been in lengthy discussions with European Tour chief Keith Pelley, only became a member after he had played in the first two World Golf Championship events.
McIlroy, who has won nearly €40million in his European Tour career alone, finished runner-up in Mexico, in February, winning almost €1m – but crucially received no Race to Dubai points.
His 21st place finish at Augusta, also failed to earn any Race to Dubai points but between the three tournaments, Rory would have been 1,726 points better off on the Race to Dubai.
Rory is now 2,039 points behind current leader Bernd Wiesberger – and after the Nedbank result, only four other players can catch the Austrian and land the $2million bonus for winning the Race to Dubai after the eighth and final Rolex Series tournament at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Those four are Open Champion Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood – last week’s winner at Sun City – Yorkshire’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who won the DP World Tour Championship three years ago, and Spaniard John Rahm, who who won this event two years ago.
McIlroy said: “I’ve been coming back here for 10 years now. I remember my first year here, battling Lee Westwood to the finish to win the Race to Dubai.
“It’s been a great 10 years. The golf course has been getting better and better and the event itself, the clubhouse and how mature everything is.
“It is a much bigger event than it was back then,” added McIlroy, who has former Ulster rugby player Niall O’Connor on the bag, with Harry Diamond staying in Belfast, having just become a father for the first time.
“If you have length, it can be advantage, but we have the top 50 guys here and they know what it takes to play well,” said Rory, who intends to take the next four weeks off at his Florida home, before spending Christmas with his family in Belfast.
“It’s going to be a fun week for get out there with Niall on the bag and hopefully I can play well the first few days and you know, we’ll get into the heat of battle hopefully on the weekend.
“That will be something that will be fun for both of us,” Rory said about 32-year-old Niall, a close friend, who works at a New York equity firm.
“I’ll maybe take on a little bit more responsibility than I usually do and jot stuff down.
“It feels a little bit like when Harry first came on the bag a couple years ago, right. I took on a little more responsibility, writing stuff in my yardage book and pacing stuff out. I actually quite enjoy that part, as well.
“You know what, it will be fun. Obviously Niall and I go back a long way, so yeah, for me at this point it’s just about trying to stay as relaxed and as loose as possible out there. And he can definitely do that for me.”
McIlroy won on his most recent start in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China three weeks ago.
Wby Danny Willett was so relieved after DP World Tour win a year ago
Meanwhile defending champion Willett backed up his win 12 months ago with a second Rolex Series title in the BMW PGA Championship, in September.
Like Willett, McIlroy has previous success at Jumeriah Golf Estates, having claimed the title in 2012 and 2015 with a further five top 10 finishes in his nine appearances.
That is also the aim for Willett, who won by two shots from Matt Wallace and Patrick Reed last year, as he seeks to become the first player since Henrik Stenson in 2013/14 to defend the DP World Tour Championship title.
Willett, a winner at Wentworth two months ago, said: “It’s always nice to come back and defend anywhere in the world.
“For it to be the final event of the year in Dubai, obviously with the new format – 50 guys here and a really strong field again – it’s good fun.
“I’m sure we’ll get four great days of golf, four exciting days of golf for everyone that comes up. Hopefully on Sunday we’re in a similar position.
“Last year, we weren’t sure if we were going to win again with all the injuries, and it was nice to come back and do it on such a big stage against such a great field.
“Obviously coming down the stretch with Patrick Reed and Jon Rahm posting scores, just to prove to myself that when I get in contention, I’m pretty good at closing out golf tournaments.
“Obviously after everything that happened, it was, a pretty special moment, especially with all the family here and friends.
“Any win in your career is a pretty special moment, but yeah, the bigger the event and the bigger the emotion, always makes it feel even better.”
•For tee times for Thursday’s first round in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, click here.