Rory McIlroy admits he’s “okay” with the fact that his chance of a fourth Race to Dubai win in five years are now out of his hands
The new world No 2’s decision to pull out of next week’s Turkish Airlines Open means he’s may be too far behind new leader Henrik Stenson or Masters champion Danny Willett when he reappears for the final event in Dubai in less than three weeks’ time.
“Yeah, I guess it’s out of my hands,” McIlroy said after closing with a 66 and picking up €336,944 for a share of fourth behind Hideki Matsuyama in the WGC HSBC Champions in China.
"That's the thing. I took the decision not to go to Turkey next week, and those boys can battle it out. If I have somewhat of a chance going into Dubai, that’s great.
"But if not, I think over the course of the season, they have had big wins and played well. They are two major champions, so I’m okay with that.”
Willett finished 75th in China but with Stenson making birdie at the last for a 65 and a share of second with Daniel Berger (69), he picked up €712,836 and moved ahead of the Englishman to the top of the Race to Dubai standings.
The upshot is that the standings now look like this with three events to go:
- STENSON Henrik SWE (14) 3,843,284
- WILLETT Danny ENG (22) 3,581,897 (€261,387 behind Stenson)
- MCILROY Rory NIR (13) 2,824,149 (€1,019,135 behind Stenson)
- NOREN Alex SWE (21) 2,318,604 (€1,524,680 behind Stenson)
The Swede will not be joining Willett in Turkey next week, which means the Masters champion will have a chance to regain top spot with the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai to come.
“it’s going to be tight all the way to the end, and that’s the way we like it,” said Stenson, who is skipping Turkey and playing the Nedbank Golf Challenge and the Dubai finale.
“It would be nice to go into the last one knowing that if you win in Dubai, you win the overall."
He added: "Back home to Orlando, do a bit of work with [coach] Pete [Cowen] and then hopefully I can just carry on for the final two weeks.”
Shane Lowry, who is also skipping the Turkish Airlines Open, shot a disappointing 77 that featured three double bogeys in the space of four holes (eighth, ninth and 11th) as he fell 15 places to tied 23rd but remained 24th in the Race to Dubai as he won €72,612.
Lowry and McIlroy are presumably skipping the Turkish Airlines Open because of a recent rocket attack on the southern coastal town of Kemer, which slightly injured about a dozen people.
The tournament will be held at Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort in Antalya, some 85km further north
Turkish media reported that two rockets were fired from a mountainous area close to the highway linking the city of Antalya to Kemer.
Asked why he made the decision not to travel, AP reported McIlroy as saying: “I think it’s obvious.”
He added: “The fact I’ve won the FedEx Cup this year, won the Race to Dubai before, made the decision a little easier."
McIlroy was certainly keen to compete and had planned to play in Turkey and Dubai in order to complete a rare FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai double.
“There’s a target in your sights and that’s the Race to Dubai for me – I’ve won it three of the last four years,” he said before the HSBC Champions. “Trying to go four out of five, I think that’s a big motivation and a big key for me
“I want to try and do the double. I want to try to win the Race to Dubai as well as what I’ve already achieved this year.”
There was to be no joy in China, however, as Matsuyama sealed an historic seven-shot victory to become the first Asian player to win a World Golf Championship title.
The 24 year old closed with a bogey-free final round of 66, meaning he made 29 birdies across four rounds, and played the final 45 holes without dropping a shot at Sheshan International Golf Club, to seal the largest winning margin in the tournament’s history.
Matsuyama’s winning score of 23 under par was just one shot shy of Dustin Johnson’s record low total in 2013, with Open champion Stenson (65) and American Berger (69) sharing second place on a distant 16 under par.
Stenson’s result, however, means he replaces Masters champion Willett as leader of Race to Dubai, with the Swede now 261,387 points clear of the Englishman with three events remaining of the 2016 European Tour season.
McIlroy also closed the gap on Willett after closing with a six under par round of 66 to share fourth place with American Bill Haas (69) on 15 under par.
It was McIlroy’s fifth top ten finish in sixth appearances in the tournament, and while he’s closer to the Race to Dubai leader, his deficit has only changed by just over €36,000 from €1.05m behind Willett to €1.01m behind Stenson.
“I think Hideki has played much superior golf than the rest of the field this week,” McIlroy said. "You know, he's going to be a deserved champion, that's for sure.
"It's been a decent week. Obviously there's a couple good scores in there mixed in with a couple of ones that I'd like to take back. But you know, overall, the week’s been pretty good.
"It wasn't the win that I wanted, but I'm going to finish in the top 5 it looks like anyway, so not a bad week.
"Yeah, mid-round, third day, and obviously didn't get off to the fastest of starts with the 71. So again, those two rounds were a little bit disappointing.
“But felt like I played pretty good golf and when I got it going, I was able to make some birdies and just not as many as I had to."
Matsuyama was delighted to win and hopes now to go on and win a major.
“I knew Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship, and actually, I was surprised when they announced that I was the first Asian to win a WGC event,” he said.
"Winning today I feel has got me closer to being able to compete a lot better in the Major tournaments. So my next goal is, of course, to win a Major, and I'm going to do all that I can to prepare well for that.”