Rory McIlroy can overtake Darren Clarke in the world rankings and take another step towards his US Masters dream in this week’s $2.5 million UBS Hong Kong Open.
The Holywood teenager, 19, jumped 17 places 63rd in the world thanks to his fourth place finish in the Barclays Singapore Open and is now just two places behind his mentor.
If he remains inside top 64 until February 23, McIlroy will tee it up in the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. But he has his sights set on finishing the year inside the world’s top 50 and booking his ticket to Augusta National.
After clinching his fifth top-10 from his last seven starts on Sunday, McIlroy said: "I'm really pleased. A share of fourth is going to mean more world ranking points so I couldn't be happier.
"It's been another good week for me and is just a continuation of how I have been playing right up to the end of the European Tour season.
"I've now been up there on the leader board for about the last six or seven weeks except for Valderrama and now I'm heading to Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Open on a course I know really well from the Faldo Series.
“I’m just looking for as many ranking points as I can get. An invitation to the Masters would be the best Christmas present you could ask for.”
McIlroy missed the cut in Hong Kong 12 months ago but has jumped 169 places in the world rankings since January and become the youngest player to pass the one million euro barrier in career earnings thanks to his fourth place cheque for €178,070 in Singapore.
He’s already ranked second favourite with the bookies behind defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez to grab his maiden win at Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling, where he will take on Major winners Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Michael Campbell and John Daly.
Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley will be using the Hong Kong event to warm up for next week’s Omega Mission Hills World Cup while Challenge Tour graduate Gareth Maybin is third reserve.
McGinley will be making his first appearance in the 2009 Race to Dubai hoping for a major improvement in his putting.
He said: “My putting remains an area that I need to improve upon. Despite putting very consistently I didn't seem to have the two or three hot weeks a year that seems to be the difference between winning and finishing in the top five or top 10.”