Golf: McIlroy keen to make up ground

FedExCup champion covets Shanghai title, determined to make up for last year's failure

SHANGHAI • Rory McIlroy is looking to end the year in style, starting by winning the prestigious World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai this week.

But the PGA Tour's newly crowned FedExCup champion will have to overcome all four of this year's first-time Major winners and 40 of the world's top 50 players in a star-studded field if he is to lift the title for the first time.

The list of champions of the tournament, dubbed "Asia's Major," reads like a who's who of golf.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland teeing off during the pro-am event for the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai yesterday.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland teeing off during the pro-am event for the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

APPETITE FOR VICTORY

I've avoided the club sandwich this week. The aim is to get out of China in one piece.

RORY MCILROY, who is keen to avoid a repeat of last year's food poisoning.

But the Northern Irishman's name is missing from a WGC-HSBC Champions roll of honour featuring Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

"Yes, I'd love to tick that one off," McIlroy said yesterday. "I've won in Hong Kong before. I've won in Shanghai, but it wasn't an officially sanctioned event at the time (the Shanghai Masters in 2011).

"I'd love to win in China again and I've played well enough on this golf course to win but just haven't really done enough when it mattered. Hopefully this year will be the year to change that."

The good news for him is that he appears finally to have put his injury-hit 2015 season behind him.

He ripped ankle ligaments playing football and had to miss his British Open defence and a large chunk of last season. Then, when he got to Shanghai he was floored by a dodgy sandwich and food poisoning.

He finished tied 11th, the only time he has failed to make the top six at Sheshan.

"I've avoided the club sandwich this week," he joked. "The aim is to get out of China in one piece. I'm taking every precaution to be in good shape."

After he became the FedEx champion last month, McIlroy took a break and trained in Dubai.

"Yeah, the game's feeling really good and I'm really happy with where I'm at," he said. "I'd love to do the double (FedExCup and Race to Dubai). There's a lot of ground to make up but that's nothing a couple of wins wouldn't fix."

Masters champion Danny Willett leads the Race to Dubai standings and has great memories of the 7,261-yard Sheshan course on the western outskirts of Shanghai.

The Englishman shot a flawless 62 with 10 birdies in the final round a year ago to finish in a share of third place.

Henrik Stenson lies second in the European Tour standings and will be looking to close the gap with McIlroy, who is lurking in third.

Stenson, the British Open champion and Olympic silver medallist, was the first man to win the FedExCup and Race to Dubai double in 2013.

US Open champion Dustin Johnson took his first big win at the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2013, while US PGA champion Jimmy Walker completes the list of 2016 Major winners in China this week.

Justin Thomas, who retained his PGA Tour CIMB Classic title in Kuala Lumpur last week, plus Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and defending champion Russell Knox, are also in the hunt for a share of the US$9.5 million (S$13.2 million) prize fund - the richest in world golf outside the United States and the Majors.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WGC-HSBC CHAMPIONS
Day 1: Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, 11am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'McIlroy keen to make up ground'. Print Edition | Subscribe