The pressure is on in the Race to Dubai but Rory McIlroy reckons it will only bring out the best in him.
Ranked third in the money list chase, €209,245 behind Westwood, McIlroy knows he could go top if he takes home the €750,000 winner’s cheque.
Just €541,667 will count in the Race to Dubai as the event has a limited field but it could still be enough to regain top spot with the HSBC Champions, the Hong Kong Open and the Dubai World Championship to come over the final three weeks of the season.
“I desperately want to win the Race to Dubai,” said an ambitious McIlroy. “It’s been on my mind since the US PGA, or even Switzerland. Obviously I went to the top after the Dunhill, and Lee (Westwood) won in Portugal and overtook me, and then Martin Kaymer overtook me in Valencia last week, as well.
“I know it will be tough and I have to play very, very well. But if I don't win, I will be a little disappointed. It will be natural if I am.”
After 43 years at Wentworth,the annual matchplay extravaganza disappeared from the schedule last year as the greens at the West Course was dug up and the sponsors concentrated their resources on the Asian market and next week’s HSBC Champions.
The season-ending Dubai World Championship has replaced the Volvo Masters but the car makers spotted the potential of the autumnal matchplay championship owned by management giants IMG.
Even the pulling power of the biggest management group in sports couldn’t convince seven of the leading American players, led by Tiger Woods, to make the trip to Spain.
Eighth choice Anthony Kim eventually said yes but the field is still a formidable one with four of the world’s top 10 and eight of the top 20 in action.
The new, round robin format in place this year means that the 16-man field has been divided into four groups of four with each player playing his group rivals to a finish over all 18 holes.
Holes won will be used to break ties and decide the group winners who will advance to Saturday’s semi-finals and McIlroy is under no illusions about the task facing him.
He faces the Masters champion Angel Cabrera this afternoon, stable mate Sin Dyson tomorrow morning and then world number seven Henrik Stenson tomorrow afternoon.
“It will be really tough to get through the group,” McIlroy said. “Obviously Angel has won the Masters this year and Henrik has done very well in the past in match play, and obviously he’s The Players champion this year and Simon is in the best form of his life. So it's a pretty tough group.”
McIlroy beat Stenson by one hole in the Vivendi (Seve) Trophy last month and the world No 16 knows that he has the right stuff to produce the goods under pressure and add to his Dubai Desert Classic breakthrough in February and stellar performances in the Masters, the US Open and the US PGA.
The youngster could be forgiven for resting on his laurels after following his maiden professional win in DUbai in February with a top 20 on his Masters debut, a top 10 on his US Open bow and a share of third in the US PGA at Hazeltine.
But he wants more and the greater the pressure, the better he performs.
“I revel in it,” he said. “Obviously I expect a lot of myself. Obviously I put myself under the most pressure, because I want to do well.
“I want to play as well as I can. So I don't really let what other people say affect how I play.
But I do have high expectations of myself and as long as I can live up to those, then I'll be doing okay.”
The top four in the Race to Dubai have been kept apart in the group stages but there is a question mark over the fitness of top seed Paul Casey, who hasn’t played a competitive round since he retired injured from the Bridgestone Invitational three months ago.
The world number four was leading the Race to Dubai when he tore a rib muscle. Now he’s fourth “chomping at the bit” to catch Westwood.
It remains to be seen if he will be fit enough to play 54 holes in two days of round robin combat and hinted that he would withdraw if he felt “sharp pain.”
“One sharp pain - that's enough,” he said. “I'll be out of here. I'm not going to push it and do any more damage.”
Volvo has taken over as title sponsor of the World Match Play, which was played at Wentworth from 1964 to 2007.
The new format will see the 16-man field divided into four groups of four players, seedings based upon their Official World Golf Ranking.
Every player will play each other in a round robin format over full 18-hole matches. (NB. Each match will complete 18 holes every time).
Points will be awarded based upon win, tie or loss. The leading player from each group will qualify for the semi-finals. (Aggregate number of holes won will be used to determine tied positions).
Finca Cortesin Golf Club, Caseres, Malaga (7,380 yards)
Opened - 2006. Course designer - Cabell B Robinson
€3,250,000 (Race to Dubai points are reduced because of limited field)
1st: €750,000 (€541,667)
2nd: €450,000 (€361,108)
3rd: €250,000 (€203,450)
4th: €200,000 (€162,500)
Runner up in group: €150,000 (€107,575 each)
3rd in Group: €130,000 (€63,375)
4th in Group: €120,000 (€48,913)
7, Ernie Els (1994, 95, 96, 02, 03, 04 and 07)
5, Gary Player (1965, 66, 68, 71 and 73)
5, Seve Ballesteros (1981, 82, 84, 85 and 91)
Volvo World Match Play draw (seeded positions in brackets):
Group A - (1) Paul Casey, (8) Retief Goosen, (9) Anthony Kim, (16) Scott Strange
Group B - (4) Sergio Garcia, (5) Martin Kaymer, (12) Robert Allenby, (13) Oliver Wilson
Group C - (3) Henrik Stenson, (6) Rory McIlroy, (11) Angel Cabrera, (14) Simon Dyson
Group D - (2) Lee Westwood, (7) Camilo Villegas, (10) Ross Fisher, (15) Jeev Milkha Singh
Group A: (0715) Paul Casey v Scott Strange; (0725) Retief Goosen v Anthony Kim; (1225) Casey v Kim; (1235) Goosen v Strange.
Group B: (0735) Sergio Garcia v Oliver Wilson; (0745) Martin Kaymer v Robert Allenby; (1245) Garcia v Allenby; (1255) Kaymer v Wilson.
Group C: (1135) Henrik Stenson v Simon Dyson; (1145) Rory McIlroy v Angel Cabrera.
Group D: (1155) Lee Westwood v Jeev Milkha Singh; (1205) Camilo Villegas v Ross Fisher;
Group A: (1135) Casey v Goosen; (1145) Kim v Strange.
Group B: (1155) Garcia v Kaymer; (1205) Allenby v Wilson;
Group C: (0715) Stenson v Cabrera; (0725) McIlroy v Dyson; (1225) Stenson v McIlroy; (1235) Cabrera v Dyson.
Group D: (0735) Westwood v Fisher; (0745) Villegas v Singh; (1245) Westwood v Villegas; (1255) Fisher v Singh.
Saturday - 36 hole semi-finals.
Sunday - 36 hole final, 18 hole consolation match.