By Brian Keogh
Holywood hotshot Rory McIlroy will make his professional debut in Japan in May.
And Europe's fastest rising star hopes to tee it up in the prestigious Crowns tournament at Nagoya from May 1-4 as a European Tour winner.
Following his brilliant share of 11th place alongside the likes of Open champion Padraig Harrington in the Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday, McIlroy only has eyes for victory.
With a prize fund of €780,000, The Crowns is one of the top events in golf-mad Japan where McIlroy is already a household name after his exploits last season.
And the Ulster teenager, 18, can't wait to tee it up there after leaping 19 places in the Official World Golf Ranking to 201st yesterday.
Hoping to challenge for his maiden win in the Qatar Masters this week, McIlroy said: "I've never been to Japan and I'm really looking forward to it.
"I'm going to be in that part of the world because I am playing the BMW Asian Open in Shanghai the week before and I'll then have a week off ahead of the Irish Open at Adare Manor.
"So that it will be nice."
The Crowns was first played in 1960 and the list of former champions is a who's who of major winners and golfing superstars.
McIlroy's stablemate and mentor Darren Clarke, now languishing 16 spots behind him at 217th in the world, lifted the title in 2001.
But with trophy also bears the names of twice Open champion Greg Norman (1989), five-time major winner Seve Ballesteros (1991), former US PGA winner Davis Love (1998) and reigning European No 1 Justin Rose (2002).
McIlroy will need a special release from the European Tour before he can travel to Japan for the first time and bid for the winner's cheque for around €160,000.
Set to turn 19 the Monday after his Japanese debut, McIlroy confessed that the European Tour will be the main focus of his efforts this year.
He added: "Playing in Japan is going to be a great opportunity for me and somewhere where I have never been before but it's the European Tour all the way for me this year."
The Holywood kid plans to play this week's Qatar Masters and next week's Dubai Desert Classic alongside Tiger Woods before taking a long break in February to go on a cruise with his girlfriend Holly and her family.
While a Ryder Cup debut is possible next September, his goals are to win on tour, qualify for the US Open and earn enough world ranking points to get into the world's top 100 before August's US PGA at Oakland Hills.
It's not the first time that McIlroy has attracted the attention of Japanese promoters.
In November last year, he was invited to compete in the Casio World Open at Kochi but opted to play the co-sanctioned Australian Masters in Melbourne instead, finishing tied 15th.
Up to 63rd in the Order of Merit and now ranked 22nd in the Ryder Cup European Points List, McIlroy is one of the major attractions in Qatar this week after being dubbed "the most talked about youngster in world golf" in the pre-tournament promotion campaign.
The €1.75 million Doha event offers a first prize of €285,071 with defending champion Retief Goosen and former winners Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson headlining the field.
Ryder Cup stars Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, David Howell, Paul Casey, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Scot Colin Montgomerie will all be looking to land their first trophy of the year and rack up the points needed to be an automatic choice in Nick Faldo’s European team.
Dubliner Paul McGinley, who jumped 14 spots to 186th in the World Rankings following his top 10 finish in Abu Dhabi, will also tee it up alongside Irish players Graeme McDowell, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Gary Murphy.
Happy with his start to the season but disappointed by his putting, McGinley said: "On Sunday the putts didn't drop for me the way they had the day before but nevertheless I was satisfied with the end result having a top ten finish and only having three bogeys in four rounds.
"I certainly hope to build on my form in the Qatar Masters this week where I shall most certainly be looking for another good result."