Graeme McDowell must finish no worse than third in next week’s Dubai World Championship if he is to deny Martin Kaymer the Race to Dubai title.
The Ulsterman paid a high price for a slow start in the final round of the UBS Hong Kong Open with a fifth place finish behind winner Ian Poulter leaving him €290,911 adriftof the German star ahead of the final event of the season.
Two shots behind Poulter entering the final round, the US Open champion had high hopes of winning his fourth title of the year and cutting Martin Kaymer’s lead at the top of the Race to Dubai to just over €66,000.
But after previous rounds of 65, 65 and 63, the Ulsterman’s victory hopes were severely dented by bogeys at the first and third and he never got back into the shake-up for the title.
He didn’t make his first birdie of the day until the 10th. And while he finished strongly, picking up four birdies on the back nine, his two under 68 was “only” good enough for fifth place, three shots behind his Ryder Cup team mate on 19 under par.
McDowell had an eight footer at the last to tie for fourth place with Anthony Kang but had to settle for a cheque for €76,689 that leaves him needing another massive week to become European No 1.
But he believes he’s playing well enough to do it and is sensible enough to realise that whatever happens, he’s had the season of his life.
“I’m within touching distance now of next week,” he said of the task ahead. “I’ve got to play well, simple as that. I can’t control Martin’s ball; I can only control mine. I’m going to go in there next week and try to play my own game.
“I have a few things to brush up on before Thursday, but all in all, I have been driving the ball great, which is key to next week and I’m feeling really good about my game. I’m playing well enough to win next week and that’s all I can ask.
“Personally, I’m very happy with my week, disappointed with my start, but no disappointments in general this week. So I am very happy with my form and very happy with the energy levels going into Dubai next week.
“Let’s be honest, it’s been a great year and anything that happens next week is going to be a bonus. I’m just going to go there and play calm and confident golf.”
Rory McIlroy shot his 10th consecutive round in the 60s at Hong Kong Golf Club when he closed with a 67 to finish sixth on 18 under par.
But the biggest Irish mover of the day was Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin, who made an eagle and nine birdies in a career best, nine under par 61 to claim a share of seventh place with Jamie Donaldson and Jeev Milkha Singh on 17 under par.
The Ulsterman birdied the first, second and fourth but was left to rue bogeys at the fifth and sixth as he came up two shots shy of recording the first 59 on the European Tour.
Birdies at the seventh and eighth saw him turn in three under 31 and he then scorched home in just 30 blows, following a birdie two at the 12th and an eagle at the par-five 13th with three birdies at his last three holes.
Damien McGrane had an eagle two at the 10th as well as six birdies and a solitary bogey in a seven under 63 that catapulted him to tied 11th on 15 under.
Darren Clarke finished with a double bogey six for a 68 that left him on 12 under with Belfast’s Michael Hoey three shots further back after a 69.
Peter Lawrie (67) ended in the pack on five under with Paul McGinley tied for 64th and last place on three over after a second successive 73.
McGinley will finish the season outside the top 117 who keep their cards but he will still be exempt on the European Tour in 2011 thanks to his career earnings.
Poulter claimed the title by one stroke from countryman Simon Dyson (65) and 17-year old Italian Matteo Manassero (62) on 22 under par.
The Englishman made his first bogey of the week at the par-five third but birdied the fourth, seventh and eighth and then eagled the par-five 13th to take complete control of the tournament.
He bogeyed the last but that still won the 10th European Tour title of his career with a record aggregate of 258.
Ireland will have seven players at next week’s $7.5 million season-ending finale with McDowell (2nd), McIlroy (12th), Clarke (31st), McGrane (35th), Maybin (36th) and Lawrie (37th) joined by three time major winner Padraig Harrington (18th).
The top 15 in the final Race to Dubai standings will share another $7.5m from a bonus pool offering $1,500,000 to the winner and $187,500 for the man finishing 15th.