HSBC Champions preview: Rory McIlroy ready to roar by claiming third WGC title

Rory McIlroy at a press conference before the 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions
World No. 2 Rory McIlroy can’t wait to begin his bid for a third WGC title at this week’s HSBC Champions at Shanghai’s Sheshan International Golf Club. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

RORY McIlroy is itching to get back into the winner’s circle at a World Golf Championships event as he prepares to tee it up at this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions.

The Northern Irishman won his second and latest WGC event in 2015. And since then has had nine top 10s in the tournaments, including a fourth top five at Sheshan International Golf Club, in 2016.

McIlroy has won three times on the US PGA Tour this season and moved up to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking – but has not yet added to his impressive tally of European Tour wins.

“WGCs are some of the biggest tournaments we play,” said McIlroy.

“It’s always the strongest fields. You’re playing against the best players in the world. To win those events, it means that you’ve done something very well.

“I played well in WGCs this year. I had a good chance to win in Mexico, finishing second.

“Had a chance to win in Memphis, didn’t quite get over the line there, Brooks (Koepka) played very well on that last day. And actually played okay on the Match Play, ended up being beaten by Tiger.

“I’ve always enjoyed WGCs. I think it was a real thrill to get into those fields for the first time, and then to progress and to win a couple of them and be in contention in some of them.

“You’re going up against some of the best players in the world. I think as a competitor that’s what I want to do,” McIlroy added.

“I want to go up against the best players in the world more often and you really get a chance to do that at these events.”

“I started this year maybe eighth or ninth in the world. If I play well the next few weeks, I’ll have a great platform going into next year.”

Having spent 95 weeks of his career ranked as the world’s best, McIlroy is eager to get back to that position, and to continue his climb this week.

Meanwhile, Justin Rose is eyeing a late dash to Race to Dubai glory as he returns to happy hunting ground at Sheshan International.

The Hampshire ace lifted the trophy in Shanghai two years ago, and went on to win the Turkish Airlines Open the following week.

Those victories set up a grandstand finish to his European Tour campaign.

The Race to Dubai went right down the back nine on the final Sunday of the season, with Rose eventually edged out by Tommy Fleetwood in the race for the Harry Vardon Trophy.

Rose’s sole Major win came in the US Open in 2013, a year after he claimed his first WGC title in the Cadillac Championship, at Doral, in Miami, in March 2012.

Rose said: “It’s been a good little hunting ground for me the last couple of years and it’s a golf course I really enjoy.”

“I was so close to getting it done and just sort of stumbled bit on the Sunday. When I look back at it, it was a lot to ask.

“Winning in Shanghai, winning in Turkey and then I was pretty much right there in Dubai.

“With the way the points are weighted with the prize fund in Turkey and Dubai, it offers me the opportunity to make a run.

“I’ve probably got to win the last three to challenge Shane Lowry and Jon Rahm, and the guys that are doing really well, but that’s the situation I put myself in in 2017 – and I very nearly did it.”

At 29th in the Race to Dubai rankings, Rose knows he will need a similarly impressive finish to the 2019 season to challenge again.

But the 2016 Olympic Gold Medal winner is not afraid of the challenge, with three more Rolex Series events to come in a row after China.

Also teeing it up this week are former Open Champion Francesco Molinari, defending champion Xander Schauffele and 2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry.

Molinari acknowledged his struggle to repeat the success this season after claiming his first Claret Jug in 2018.

“It’s been a learning year, especially since April, obviously things have not gone how I was hoping.

“I’m just trying to learn from how it’s been and get back where I was at the beginning of the season or last year.

“It’s nice to come back every year and knowing that it’s going to get better year after year.

“The course is world-class. Everything about the event is world-class really,” added Molinari, who won the 2010 HSBC Champions – his first win on the world stage.

“I think that’s why you see some of the world’s best players coming back every season.

“Still a busy stretch coming these next five weeks, all big tournaments and it would be nice to finish the year well and build some momentum going into next season – so that it doesn’t feel like I have to start from scratch next year.”

McIlroy, Schauffele and Molinari tee off in the final group on Thursday, at 10.50am local time. For live scoring click here.

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