As Shane Lowry edged closer to $1 million this year, Rory McIlroy will take his season’s earnings beyond $13 million when he goes head to head with Tiger Woods at an exhibition match in China today.
Yet despite winning four times and topping the PGA Tour money list with more than $8m in official earnings (not to mention the $3m bonus for finishing second in the FedEx Cup) it’s possible that the US PGA champion could fail to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, one of his big goals this year
McIlroy had a lead of €437,334 over Justin Rose heading to the BMW Masters in Shanghai. And while he finished second to Peter Hanson at Lake Malaren to extend his lead at the top of the money list to €812,572, he’s not playing the WGC-HSBC Champions at Mission Hills this week and could lose out to the Swede in the race to become European No 1.
McIlroy will head from China to Bulgaria to watch his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play tennis as Hanson and Co battle for a $7m prize fund in Shenzen.
While McIlroy is playing just three more events, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Dubai World Championship finale, Hanson believes he has a sniff of the European crown after moving up from seventh to second in the money race.
Tentatively planning to add the Singapore Open to his schedule, Hanson said: “Moving closer to Rory at the top of The Race to Dubai is one of my bigger goals. I’m going to try and keep this form going and hopefully I can be up there next Sunday again.”
Clara’s Lowry closed with a 68 to finish solo fifth in Shanghai and move from 71st to a projected 56th in the world, becoming the first player to take Padraig Harrington’s crown as the top ranked golfer from the Republic of Ireland since Paul McGinley in 1997.
Winner of his first professional title in the Portugal Masters two weeks ago, 25-year old Lowry is now within touching distance of achieving his goal of breaking into the world’s top 50.
And after pocketing €226,367 in China, he’s now earned €600,000 from his last two starts and soared from 65th to 21st in the Race to Dubai with winnings this year of €954,310.
Unlikely to change his fitness regime given his massive success, Lowry said he felt tired coming down the stretch but still made birdies.
“Another good week, delighted,” said Lowry, who has played six times in the last 10 weeks. “I had a couple of bad holes during the week but to be honest I felt a bit tired coming into the back nine today and I think I managed to handle myself nicely, expecially after than double on nine.
“I am going to finish at least tied fifth, so it’s another good week in a big tournament and some good world ranking points too.
“My concentration was very good and my frame of mind was very good and I am delighted to get some great Race to Dubai points and great world ranking points. Onwards and updards.”
Asked about his self-belief given the quality of the opposition he beat this week, he said: “True. You look at that leadderboard there are more Ryder Cup players than not on it. So it’s great to be up there with those boys and I feel very comfortable.
“Off to Mission Hills and looking forward to a World Golf Championship. What could be wrong with that.”
Graeme McDowell (69) and Michael Hoey (70) shared 11th place in Shangai, eight shots behind Hanson on 13 under.
As for McIlroy, he was left to rue a slow start at Lake Malaren, where he was just a shot behind Hanson entering the final round.
The Swede birdied the second to double his advantage and when McIlroy missed short putts and bogeyed the fourth and fifth, he was four clear and cruising.
In the end, he had to sweat to clinch his sixth European Tour title as McIlroy produced a late rally to take the $1.1m top prize.
However, a thrilling finish materialised when McIlroy eagled the 15th, birdied the next to narrow the gap to two and then saw Hanson find sand at the short 17th.
The World Number 25 saved par from 15 feet, but still had a scary moment when his approach to the last came down in the bank of a bunker.
After being refused relief for a plugged lie, he did well to chip to ten feet and two putts for bogey and a 21 under par total were good enough after McIlroy had just missed his 15 foot birdie attempt from the back fringe.
Luke Donald and Ian Poulter, two more of Europe’s side in Chicago last month, finished third and fourth.
“It was a little bit tense,” said Hanson. “Rory made a tremendous effort with his eagle on 15 and birdie on 16, so it put quite a bit of pressure on me. I was trying to play it a little bit safe but against the World Number One you still have to hit the shots.
“This is by far my biggest win in my career; I think all of the work I have put in to try to be ready for The Ryder Cup - that’s really what paid off both in Holland and even now a couple of weeks later.
“I was working really hard all the way from the US PGA when I knew that I had a good chance to make the team, with my mind-set of being as prepared as I ever could be for The Ryder Cup.
“Of course, then when you put in all of that massive amount of work, it’s going to spill off in some of the tournaments around it, so I think that’s what we see now.
“I’ve been hitting it nice and especially the putter has been feeling great. Rory gave me a bit of a cushion early today – he missed a few short putts over the first few holes – and in the end that was all I needed.
“My putting has really improved, especially over the last year, and I think that’s the main reason I’m standing here with this beautiful trophy.”
On McIlroy’s late charge he added: “He played great today – the shot into 15 was true class. He was the one putting pressure on me even though I had those four shots. I think my putt on 17 was a big one.
“Moving closer to Rory at the top of The Race to Dubai is one of my bigger goals. I’m going to try and keep this form going and hopefully I can be up there next Sunday again.”
Earlier Hanson had turned in a two under par 34; then fired a hattrick of birdies from the 11th to leave the rest of the star-studded field trailing in his wake.
One ahead of World Number One Rory McIlroy at the start of the final round, Hanson extended his advantage with a birdie from five feet at the second.
The recent KLM Open winner went four ahead when his playing partner missed from inside five feet at the fourth and fifth, although the US PGA Champion responded with a birdie at the sixth after a sublime tee shot to 15 inches.
Hanson reached the par five seventh in two and two-putted, then holed from eight feet at the 11th to start a run of three successive gains.
McIlroy matched two of them, but the Northern Irishman was four behind with five to play before his late burst.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said the 23 year old. “I’m very happy with the way I played, but I missed a few opportunities on the front nine, I missed four or five short putts in a row.
“I wanted to try to make him work for it. It would have been nice to hole that putt on the last, at least to make him think a little bit, but it wasn’t to be and he played well.
“He deserved it. To go out with the lead and play the way he did and shoot 67 is very impressive. He was going to be very tough to beat today.”