Having gone head to head on the final day in a titanic tussle 12 months ago, Peter Hanson and Rory McIlroy are hoping to renew their rivalry in the second edition of the BMW Masters presented by SRE Group, which launches The European Tour’s inaugural ‘Final Series’.
On Tuesday morning, the duo were joined in a star players press conference in downtown Shanghai by Hanson’s fellow Swede Henrik Stenson, the current leader of The Race to Dubai, and Chinese star Ashun Wu.
Having been put through their musical paces by a troupe of Chinese drummers, Hanson and McIlroy sat down to relive their exploits at Lake Malaren Golf Club last year.
McIlroy, who was then the world’s pre-eminent player, pushed Hanson all the way in the inaugural US$7million tournament, but ultimately came up one shot shy of the Swede’s 21 under par winning total.
Fast forward 12 months, and McIlroy has slipped to sixth in the World Ranking and is still searching for his first victory of the 2013 campaign but, buoyed by his morale-boosting joint runner-up finish in last week’s Kolon Korean Open, the Northern Irishman is confident of going one better this year.
He said: “We had a great battle last year. Peter pulled a few shots clear of me early on, then I played some good golf on the back nine and managed to claw it back. But he played some great golf under pressure over the last few holes, and in the end he was a deserving winner. It’ll be good if I can put myself in a similar position again this year, and I feel like I’m playing well enough to do that.
“I was happy with how I hit the ball in Korea last week, especially the last day. From tee to green, it’s as good as it’s been for a while. It was important to get some competitive action under my belt, and hopefully I can kick on this week. It’s a hugely important week for me, not just to try to get my first win but also to make sure I climb into the top 60 of The Race to Dubai, so I get the chance to defend my title there at the end of the season.”
Like McIlroy, Hanson also currently finds himself outside the all-important top 60 players who qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, the fourth tournament which makes up the ‘Final Series’.
But there have been mitigating circumstances for Hanson’s slide down to the Rankings to 68th place, as the Ryder Cup player has been out of action for the last two months with a persistent back injury.
The return to a happy hunting ground will undoubtedly put a spring in his step this week and, with a first prize of €851,346 on offer to the winner, a repeat of his heroics of 12 months ago would book Hanson’s Dubai berth in spectacular fashion.
He said: “It’s great to be back here. I’ve been struggling with the back injury for most of the year, and whilst I’m still not quite 100 per cent, I’m getting closer every day. Some days you feel better than others, and I didn’t want to come back too early because if you do more damage, it can really set you back. But there’s no way I could miss this tournament.
“This place is really special to me after what happened here last year. Mine and Rory’s battle over the back nine last year was very, very special. At the time he was the most dominant golfer in the world, so to beat him gave me such a great feeling and hopefully we’ll both be in contention coming down the stretch again on Sunday.
“Obviously it’s not going to be easy because I haven’t played for a long time, but I still expect a lot of myself. When I step onto the first tee on Thursday, I’m not going to be thinking of taking it easy – I’m going to try my hardest to put myself in position to defend my title.”
Stenson, who will play with McIlroy and his compatriot Graeme McDowell in the first round, is struggling with a wrist injury he sustained in practice, but remains hopeful of competing and continuing a sensational run of form which has elevated him to fourth place in the World Ranking.