Ostensibly it’s all about climbing as high as possible in the world rankings before shutting down for Christmas. But Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington have other priorities that include cashing in big time between now and the end of the year.
McIlroy - who failed to register a birdie in a four over 75 - finished a distant third behind Keegan Bradley in the four-man PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda on Wednesday evening, jaded no doubt by his recent round the world trip to Korea (tournament) and China (exhibition), the first two legs of a nine-tournament run that will see him play in five countries in less than three months.
The 22-year old Ulsterman will spend the next few days in Istanbul where his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1, is preparing for next week’s season-ending TEB-BNP Paribas WTA Championships.
As world No 3, McIlroy has set his sights on becoming world No 1 as soon as possible but it remains to be seen if he can do that effectively given his gruelling travel schedule over the next few weeks.
Next week he heads to Shanghai for a two-week run that begins with the $5m Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters - an unoficial, 30-man invitational run by management giants IMG of a Chinese real estate firm, where the winner will take home $2m (the biggest first prize in golf) and guaranteed appearance money but no world ranking points.
That may change next year with McIlroy’s manager Chubby Chandler suggesting to the Associated Press that the Shanghai event will be co-sanctioned by the European Tour.
But that’s of little use to Harrington, who is 76th in the world rankings and set to miss his first World Golf Championship after 38 consecutive appearances, having failed to qualify automatically for the following week’s HSBC Champions, which will be played just 50km down the road at Sheshan International Golf Club.
Harrington could still secure his place in the HSBC field by winning next week’s Andalucia Masters at Valderrama but he told Irish Golf Desk that he was already committed to playing at Lake Malaren.
If Harrington was truly committed to climbing the world rankings, he would be in Spain next week and barring the mass withdrawal of players from the HSBC, his next outing will be the Barclays Singapore Open, where he needs a decent performance to make the European Tour’s Dubai World Championship.
Ranked 67th in the Race to Dubai, Harrington is almost €40,000 outside the top 60 who will contest the season-ending extravaganza in the desert. That means he has no more than three events to make it and if he is not in the top 60 following his defence of the Iskandar Johor Open from November 17-20, he will enter the final counting Hong Kong Open.
McIlroy has no such problems as he sits second behind world No 1 Luke Donald in the Race to Dubai standings with earnings (so far) of €2.54m. And while his main goal is to be ready to take care of “unfinished business” as Augusta National next April, he is collecting more dollars than world ranking points right now.
Following his Lake Malaren jaunt and the HSBC Champions, he will join forces with Graeme McDowell for the World Cup at Hainan Island, also in China and end his season competing in the Hong Kong Open, the Dubai World Championship before saying goodbye to 2011 at the Asian Tour’s season-ending Thailand Golf Championship.
In between, he has planned a two week holiday with girlfriend Wozniacki at a new Jumeriah Hotel in the Maldives (where a three-night stay costs $4,658 for those not sponsored by Jumeirah) and a nine-hole exhibition with Ryo Ishikawa in Japan.
McIlroy will rack up over 50,000 air miles before he returns to Northern Ireland for Christmas but in Bermuda he simply built up frustration as he struggled with his swing in a 20 mph wind and failed to shine on the greens.
Tied for the lead with Bradley on four under par after the opening round, he found himself three clear of the American with 12 holes to play.
But three bogeys in a row from the seventh undid his challenge and he eventually finished four shots behind Bradley, who shot a level par 71 to win by one from a charging Charl Schwartzel (65) on four under. A struggling Darren Clarke was last on nine over after rounds of 77 and 74.
McIlroy confessed that he struggled with his swing and the breeze, which is now becoming a familiar lament.
“I didn’t quite have control of the golf ball like I did yesterday,” he said. “It was tough, the wind out there was tough. It was tricky. And you know, I didn’t — I got off to a decent start but bogeying the 7th, a pretty easy par 5, wasn’t ideal.
“And then you follow that up with two other bogeys. So I obviously still had a chance going into the back nine. I just didn’t do enough when I needed to.”
His consolation was a cheque for $250,000 as Bradley took home $600,000, Schwartzel $300,000 and Clarke $200,000.
Clarke decided to stay on in Bermuda with his fiancee and family and pull out of next week’s Andalucia Masters. But given the riches available to the game’s elite in Asia over the next few weeks, Christmas will be a happy one for Ireland’s major champions.