This is it – the climax of 51 week on tour, thousands of drives, chips and putts. The Dubai World Championship starts on Thursday, and things couldn’t be closer at the top.
Any one of four players can still aspire to be crowned European Number One by winning this week’s season-ending event over the brand new Earth Course.
Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Ross Fisher all have an eye on the biggest prize in European golf.
For weeks now, the excitement has been cranked up several notches as McIlroy and Westwood have swapped positions at the head of The Race to Dubai Rankings. At the weekend, it was the turn of 20 year old McIlroy – bidding to become the second youngest European Number One behind the great Seve Ballesteros – to take pole position on the grid.
A mature performance in last week’s UBS Hong Kong Open, where he finished runner-up to Grégory Bourdy, nudged him €128,173 ahead of Westwood, the man who previously occupied the Number One position until collecting a share of 54th place at Fanling.
McIlroy knows he only has to finish higher than his three competitors over the Earth course but he is not interested in any of the many different permutations; he is interested only in winning.
“I will still be trying to win the Dubai World Championship,” said the young man with a wise old head on his shoulders. “I won’t be trying to protect a lead or finish ahead of this guy or that guy. I want to win. If I win it will take care of everything.
“I am Number One at the moment but there are four rounds of golf left. If I can play as well this week in Dubai as I have done of late then I will give myself a great chance to end Number One. It is where I wanted to be going into the final tournament.”
Asked how it would feel to pick up both trophies come Sunday, the Northern Irishman added: “It would be fantastic and that’s my aim. That’s what I am there to do. I was 11 under for the two rounds at the weekend (in Hong Kong) so I have a good momentum going into the final week.”
Westwood was disappointed to relinquish his position as Race to Dubai leader but is confident last week’s performance will not have an adverse effect on his chances of winning at least one trophy in Dubai.
The Englishman is also excited to see the Greg Norman-designed Earth course, which will taste competitive action for the first time on Thursday when the top 58 players atop The Race to Dubai Rankings descend for the season’s finale.
Westwood said: “Obviously I am looking forward to the week. If I win the Dubai World Championship, I win The Race to Dubai, simple as that. That’s what I set out to do at the start of the last few weeks.
“Last week was just a bit of an off week - nothing really went for me and I couldn’t get anything going. I know nothing about the Earth course. It will be a new experience for everybody so we will all be in the same boat.”
Kaymer, who shot to the top of the Rankings with consecutive wins at the Open de France ALSTOM and The Barclays Scottish Open in July, only to drop back during a spell out injured, was one of the first players to arrive on Sunday and was soon practising hard under the desert sun.
The German said: “My goal is to win - nothing else. If I can achieve that, then we will see what happens.”
Fisher used the Volvo World Match Play Championship success in Spain as his springboard to getting into The Race to Dubai mix, albeit his destiny is not in his own hands.
“All I've got to do is concentrate on myself – I can't do anything about Lee or Martin or Rory,” he said. “If I can do well, hopefully other things will take care of themselves.”