Rory McIlroy will be an interested spectator as the first event of the European Tour’s Final Series gets under way in China today. The Northern Irishman holds a commanding lead of more than three million points over Sergio Garcia as he looks to win the Race to Dubai and PGA Tour money list titles for the second time in three years.
However, the world No 1 is missing both this week’s BMW Masters and next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions events in Shanghai in order to prepare for a court case with his former management company, increasing the admittedly slim possibility of being overhauled by the likes of Garcia and current European No 1 Henrik Stenson.
Garcia and Stenson will not be at Lake Malaren either this week, with the Spaniard opting to compete in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia on the PGA Tour instead, while Stenson withdrew following the birth of his third child on Sunday.
Each event in the Final Series has a prize pool of 10 million points with 1,666,600 going to the winner, while McIlroy is guaranteed to earn at least the 27,170 points on offer for last place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. That will take McIlroy’s total to just over 5.4m, meaning his rivals will need to have reached at least 3.8m before Dubai to have a chance of overhauling the 25-year-old.
For Garcia, who has committed to play in the HSBC Champions and the Turkish Airlines Open, that equates to a runner-up and top-five finish, while Stenson will need even better results to keep his hopes alive.
With so many points on offer, all of the top 20 players have a chance of being within striking distance of McIlroy with a first and second place finish over the next three weeks, but eighth-placed Justin Rose has other goals in mind.
The top 15 players after Dubai will share a bonus pool of $5m and Rose is also looking to move up from his current position of sixth in the world rankings.
“I’m not sure I can catch Rory but the bonus pool runs deep down to 15th and I want to strengthen my world ranking as much as possible,” the 2013 US Open champion said. “If I can play well and maybe win a couple of tournaments between now and the end of the season, I could probably get up to second in the world, which would be a personal best. So there’s always something to play for.”
Rose warmed up for the BMW Masters by beating Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter in a match to mark the opening of a course they designed in Hainan, continuing his excellent match play form after being Europe’s top points scorer at Gleneagles last month.
Poulter is a lowly 64th on the money list after just one top-five finish on the European Tour this season, but is looking to continue his impressive record in the Far East. The 38-year-old was 15th at Lake Malaren last year and fourth in 2012, as well as having won in Shenzhen, Singapore and Hong Kong.
“I’ve got a decent record here in Asia,” Poulter said. “I played very strong the back end of last year. I’ve played well on this golf course in the past, so I’m looking forward to getting going. I’ve been close here. I like the layout, and if the weather holds off for us and is kind then it’s going to be a great week.”
Meanwhile, Lee Westwood will look to complete a unique double at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
Westwood is part of a 78-strong field for the CIMB Classic, which is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and Asian Tour and is being held on the same course where he won the Maybank Malaysian Open on the European Tour in April.
“I’m playing nicely at the moment,” said the Englishman. “I played well in Napa [finishing 12th at the Frys.com Open] a couple of weeks ago and it’s nice for me that it’s a nice setting here.”
Westwood won his 13th tournament in Asia the week after finishing seventh in the Masters and added: “I played it at 18-under-par and won by seven so you’d have to say it suits my game. I’m the most recent winner around this golf course so I’m pretty confident as far as this week’s tournament is concerned.”
Westwood has won in Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Macau and Malaysia and knows exactly what is needed to succeed in the testing conditions.
“You’re not going to function if you get dehydrated out there and lose energy,” the 41-year-old added. “Your brain is going to stop working and then you need to use your common sense and have good course-management skills.”
Westwood will play alongside Ryder Cup team-mate Sergio Garcia and Gleneagles opponent Patrick Reed in the first two rounds. The tournament winner will claim $1.2m.