Rory McIlroy will be hoping to extend his lead at the top of The Race to Dubai Rankings at the Portugal Masters this week, but standing in his way is the strongest field in the tournament’s history.
The in-form Northern Irishman’s joint runner-up finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last week propelled him into pole position on the money list and, with his closest challengers Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer still out of action, McIlory has the chance to strengthen his claim to be Europe’s Number One.
He will have to contend with a deep pool of golfing talent over Oceânico Victoria Golf Course on the Algarve, however, with Lee Westwood, Ross Fisher, Oliver Wilson, Simon Dyson and Søren Kjeldsen all currently in the top ten on The Race to Dubai and vying to improve on their positions as the season reaches its climax.
The presence of Major winners Padraig Harrington and Retief Goosen, defending champion Alvaro Quiros plus star names such as Colin Montgomerie, Robert Karlsson and Justin Rose will also give McIlroy some tough competition, but the 20 year old is feeling confident.
“I got off to a great start this year and I don't think I've ever been out of the top ten in The Race to Dubai,” said McIlroy, who is bidding to end his first full season on The European Tour as the youngest Number One in Tour history. “It's always sort of been there for me to look at and think to myself ‘I’d really like to win that’.
“It shows your consistency throughout the year, so if you do win The Race to Dubai or a money title, you know you've played well throughout the season without having too many hiccups along the way. It would be a huge honour to win. I'll know that I've had a very, very good year and it would definitely be something to build on.”
Harrington, who heads into the tournament in 21st place in The Race to Dubai, has not given up hope of spoiling McIlroy’s party, though, saying: “I'm fully in The Race to Dubai now. I've got four events left to give myself a chance of winning that. I probably need to win two of those four events, and a few other things to go right, but that would be the goal at the moment is the Race to Dubai, and it's a good system. I'm motivated and ready to go.”
Harrington added: “I am looking forward to getting back down to the Algarve for the Portugal Masters. It is one of those destinations where we are guaranteed great weather and are always presented with a great golf course that is in perfect condition.”
Westwood may be €266,627 behind in fourth place in The Race to Dubai but is still gunning to win the Harry Vardon Trophy for the second time in his career.
“I think The Race to Dubai is in most people's thoughts now,” he said. “We have some massive events coming up that could affect the outcome and I've obviously got to play myself into a good position, which is just about all you want to do at this part of the year. And we'll see what happens over the next five weeks.”
For Quiros, the Portugal Masters holds special memories as his victory in Vilmoura was the catalyst for a fine 2009 season.
He said: “It was a great feeling and great victory because it opened the door for so much for me. First of all, winning the Portugal Masters got me into the Volvo Masters which was my immediate target. I had not had a great season up until that point but Portugal really kick-started my year.
“It also opened the door to the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. I got in there after winning the Qatar Masters, but the Portugal Masters got me moving in that direction – it was a very important victory in my career.
“I am really looking forward to going back. It is a beautiful resort and there is a great atmosphere there.
“This will be the first time that I have actually defended a title. I didn’t get the chance to defend the Alfred Dunhill title that I won in South Africa so it will be nice to be the defending champion.”