Rory McIlroy is backing pal Graeme McDowell to deny German superstar Martin Kaymer in the race to become European No 1.

In-form McDowell has slashed the German’s lead at the top of the Race to Dubai standings from €1million to just €367,600 over the past three weeks.

And with Kaymer taking the week off before next week’s decisive Dubai World Championship finale, McIlroy reckons McDowell now has the edge over the US PGA champion.

Expecting McDowell to be one of his biggest rivals for the UBS Hong Kong Open, McIlroy said: “Graeme has been playing great, Martin has as well, but I think Graeme has got the edge a little bit.

“He is finishing strong and hopefully he can go and do it.”

McIlroy won on the PGA Tour in May but hasn’t lifted a European Tour title since he claimed the Dubai Desert Classic 21 months ago.

Yet the Holywood hotshot believes he’s a far better player now thanks to his stint on the US Tour this season.

Targeting this week’s Hong Kong Open, where he has finished second for the past two years, McIlroy said: “If you had asked me this time last year where I would have wanted to be, I would have said I would like to have had a few more wins

“I’ve played well enough to have a couple more wins but that’s the way golf goes sometimes. Hopefully I’ll be able to get my first European Tour win this year in Hong Kong.”

McIlroy stands by his decision to give up his US Tour card next year as he believes he is happier and plays better in Europe.

He explained: “You have to make yourself happy and look after number one and staying at home and spending a bit more time in Europe will make me happier.

“I found out that the places you like to go to have a lot to do with it. Places that you play that make you feel happy. There’s no point playing a golf tournament somewhere you don’t want to be at.

“I’m trying to really pick and choose my events in the places where I’m happy and I want to be there and give it a good go. Hong Kong has been one of the tournaments I have targeted to try and do well at and try and win.”

US Open champ McDowell is another big fan of Hong Kong and he’s determined to take advantage of Kaymer’s absence following his win in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters and third place finish in Singapore on Monday.

Targeting a win that would leave him just €66,154 behind Kaymer, McDowell said: “There is a little bit of pressure on me to perform as it is a very important week for me with Martin not being here.

“It’s important that I play well and get a good result to try and cut a bit more into that lead of his in the Race to Dubai and this is a course that I like and a course that I know I can play well on.”

Nine Irishmen are in action with Offaly’s Shane Lowry needing to finish 20th at worst to make the top-60 money winners who qualify for next week’s Dubai World Championship.

But Belfast’s Michael Hoey must win the €301,000 top prize in Hong Kong if he is to join McDowell, McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Gareth Maybin at the season ending party.