Rory McIlroy has The Race To Dubai leader Lee Westwood firmly in his sights as the Holywood golfer continues his bid to become the second youngest Number One in European Tour history at the UBS Hong Kong Open this week.
McIlroy sits a mere €52,321 adrift of Westwood - who has also made the trip to the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling - in second place in The Race To Dubai rankings after leapfrogging Martin Kaymer with a brilliant fourth place at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai last week.
And after agonisingly missing out on what would then have been a maiden title in thrilling fashion at last year’s UBS Hong Kong Open, the 20-year-old has extra motivation to continue the recent form which has yielded four top-10 finishes in his last five stroke-play events.
With the substantial prize money on offer at the season-ending Dubai World Championship presented by: DP World the final standings will not be decided this week, although a win on Sunday would leave either contender in pole position.
“These two weeks are going to be very good. Hong Kong I love coming to. It’s my fifth year coming here – twice as an amateur and then this is my third Hong Kong Open. I love the city and golf course. It is one of my favourite weeks of the year,” said the World Number 17.
“Winning this event will take care of catching Lee so that’s what I am focusing on. I will be keeping an eye on Lee’s scores all week. There is not much between us now so any ground I can gain this week will be good to take into Dubai.”
Should McIlroy end top of the rankings in The Race To Dubai, he would move behind Seve Ballesteros as the youngest winner of the title having only claimed a maiden title at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year.
Westwood, 36, won seven times worldwide in 2000 to become European Number One for the first time.
“I have had my chances to win after Dubai,” he added.
“There have been chances but it has been such a consistent year with 12 top-10s and 10 top fives.”
Whatever McIlroy ultimately goes on to achieve in his career, the dramatic nature of what happened to him 12 months ago at the UBS Hong Kong Open will certainly have had a part of play.
Chinese Taipei's Lin Wen-tang edged a thrilling three-way play-off that also included Italy’s Francesco Molinari.
After Lin failed to hole a birdie putt from six feet on the last during regulation, he remained in the play-off at the first extra hole after playing a brilliant second shot from the trees to within six feet.
With Molinari eliminated, McIlroy then hit his tee shot on the second play-off hole into the same trees, but played an equally remarkable recovery shot.
Lin, though, was in the middle of the fairway and hit a superb second to within a foot before claiming his first honour on The European Tour.
“Experiences on the course make you learn about your game and yourself,” said McIlroy.
“A year on, I feel every day I wake up is a day to learn something new. I feel I need to keep doing that. I am still the same person as last year but my results have been better this year.
“I have great memories of playing last year, playing well to get into the play-off and then the play-off itself was incredible. It was one of the best experiences I have had on the golf course - bittersweet memories but I look on it as a positive.
“It was another week I got myself right in contention. This event last year got me in the top 50 in the world so it was a big event for me.”