From Brian Keogh at Vilamoura
The main event is injured Justin Rose’s bid for a top-two finish that would allow him to leapfrog Ernie Els and Pádraig Harrington and go straight to the top of the European Tour Order of Merit.
Yet teenager Rory McIlroy is threatening to steal the show in the inaugural Portugal Masters on the Algarve after making a phenomenal start to his fledgling professional career.
Teeing it up in just his fourth event in the paid ranks, the 18-year-old Holywood tyro is also chasing a top-two finish that would guarantee his place in the season-ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama in two weeks’ time.
Victory at Vilamoura’s Victoria Clube de Golfe would also make McIlroy the youngest winner in the history of the European Tour and as he rides the crest of a wave of confidence, the Ulster starlet is determined to put on a show for his growing legion of fans.
“I love playing in front of huge galleries and I think it spurs you on as well,” McIlroy said in an official media conference. “It’s not that you want to show off but you like to show what you can do.
"My main goal for the week is to try and get into the Volvo Masters and if I can do that it would be a great end to the season. Obviously I’m hoping for a top two finish but I don’t think that puts too much pressure on me. I know myself and I know I’m playing well, so I am just going to try and do the same thing I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks.”
Rose missed his first 21 cuts as a professional but he doesn’t begrudge McIlroy his meteoric start to tour life - €268,030 from just three starts.
“Right now he’s got to ride that high as much as possible and just keep going with it,” Rose said. “He really has no pressure right now. He’s worked himself into a perfect situation where he has his card for next year and can play where likes. That’s about as good as it gets.”
The pressure is on Rose to perform as he trails Els by almost €250,000 in the race for the Order of Merit with this week’s €500,000 top prize dangling in front of him like a juicy carrot.
Yet the South Africa born Englishman confessed that he arrived in Portugal “behind the eight-ball” in terms of his preparation after a recurrence of a niggling disc injury during a visit to his chiropractor last weekend.
“I couldn't get off the table for five minutes when it happened,” Rose explained. “But I couldn't have been in a better place. He could piece me together again. I anticipate being okay tomorrow. I made good progress on Sunday and Monday, and when I went for a check-up on Tuesday he said it looks good.”
Rose must play at least one more tournament to meet the 11-tournament minimum required by the European Tour and revealed that he might play next week’s Mallorca Classic if he is unable to tee it up today. But the bottom line is that he needs at least one big finish to have any chance of becoming European number one this year.
“The way I look at it, I need a big week in one of these two weeks - a top two or a top three,” Rose said. “I am not going to be able to limp across the finishing line. I am going to have to play some very good golf.”