He was still flying under the radar as he tried to get off the Challenge Tour this time last year, but now Bob MacIntyre is in with the stars. The draw for this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions event in China has been split into two distinct halves and the 23-year-old Scot is in the thick of the “headline” names for the opening two rounds at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
MacIntyre, the sole Scot in the 78-strong field, will make his WGC debut in the company of American duo Billy Horschel and Kevin Kisner. Bubba Watson is in the group in front with Phil Mickelson right behind, while Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott are also in the same half of the starting sheet.
It is a measure of how much MacIntyre has progressed in such a short period of time. In his rookie season on the European Tour, the left-hander from Oban is sitting seventh in the Race to Dubai. Helped by a string of strong performances, he is 88th in the world rankings, now the top Scot in the global standings after climbing above Russell Knox, pictured right.
His playing rights for next season were secured months ago. It is now about seeing what tasty treats he can secure for the 2020 campaign. Thanks to finishing joint sixth on his major debut at Royal Portrush in July, he is already into next year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s. If he can get into the world’s top 50 before 31 December, he will be heading to Augusta National in April for The Masters as well.
Other doors will open if he can finish strongly in the Race to Dubai, this week’s event being followed by three Rolex Series tournaments – the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa and the DP World Tour Championship, which will have the biggest first prize in the game of £2.3 million up for grabs at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai in three weeks’ time.
“What a schedule and, to be honest, I didn’t really expect to be in this position heading into the final few weeks of the season,” admitted MacIntyre. “My goal at the start of the season was to keep my card somehow but, as I have discovered, things can move fast in this game and I will certainly be aiming to enjoy this exciting end to the campaign.
“It is my first time playing a WGC and first time playing the final few events in the Race to Dubai. The ultimate goal is to try to get into the world’s top 50 before Christmas as that would take care of everything for next year. If I can go into these next few weeks and throw in some good performances, I don’t see why I can’t achieve that goal. But it’s just about trying to finish as high up the Race to Dubai as I can and pick up as many world ranking points as I can.”
It has been onwards and upwards for MacIntyre, really, since he came in with a flourish at Hillside in May to finish joint second in the Betfred British Masters. He again came close to claiming a breakthrough win in his next outing in the Made in Denmark, added a third runner-up finish in the Porsche European Open in Germany before getting himself in the mix once more in the Italian Open earlier this month and eventually tying for fourth spot.
“I feel like I have been freewheeling since finishing second to Bernd Wiesberger in the Made in Denmark in May and securing my card,” he added. “I feel that since then I’ve had an attitude where I’ve been able to just tee it up and smash it. There’s not really been a worry. People obviously have expectations for me now, but I don’t really worry about that. I just go and play golf. If it’s good, then great. If not, I will just have to go away and work on something.”
Knox, of course, won this event on the same course in 2015, a few months after MacIntyre had underlined his potential when landing the Scottish Amateur Championship at Muirfield. “I remember watching it,” he said of Knox posting a 20-under-par total to win by two shots from Kisner to become the first Scot to claim a WGC title. “It looks like a great golf course and hopefully I can put up a wee fight come Sunday afternoon.
“If I am being honest, playing in a WGC this year wasn’t really a goal when I got my card at first because I didn’t really know how you got into these events. I didn’t know what the routes were into them. I set out simply trying to hang on to my card – that was the main goal. But, once you complete one goal, another door opens and you try to go after that next goal.
“My game has been good all year. I’ve actually been disappointed with some results. It feels there are points in rounds where I maybe push too early or get too aggressive at holes where I don’t need to. It costs me slightly. In Italy, for example, I bogeyed the tenth hole in the final round when I was still in with a shout. That took my title chance away there.
“But this year is about learning and I feel I have done that most weeks. I’m over the moon with how things have gone and where I am sitting in the Race to Dubai. Obviously being the top Scot in the world rankings as well is a good thing, but I don’t get too caught up in things like that.
“Yes, my goals are set and it is nice to achieve that milestone, but the main thing is that I try to keep moving up the world rankings – and I don’t see why not.”