Ailing McIlroy admits his Race is run
Donald on brink of history as US Open champion concedes money list title
Eighteen are still left to be counted, but Rory McIlroy has conceded the Race. This isn't a question of a candidate throwing in the towel; rather that candidate refusing to seek refuse in the flannel. Luke Donald is simply too good to hide from the reality in soundbites.
"It's over – definitely," said McIlroy as he peered up at the Dubai World Championship leader Luke Donald in fourth and himself in a tie for eighth. History is heading towards High Wycombe as their favourite golfing son prepares to become the first player to lift both the US and European money list titles in the same season.
For McIlroy to top the Order of Merit he would need only to make up the six shots to the leader, AlvaroQuiros, as well as see Donald fall six spots. Unlikely – to use an understatement. "The race is run," said McIlroy. "I fully expect Luke to go out there and shoot another very good solid round and wrap this thing up. He deserves it. He's had an incredible year."
Hasn't he just. When the final putt drops this evening Donald can look back over a season in which he compiled more victories than anyone in the world's top 50, won more money and ranking points and amassed more top 10s. Today, barring a collapse which would appear like a freak figure on his results sheet, Donald will record his 20th top 10 of the campaign which will ensure his transatlantic achievement. In truth, that will be the very least of his ambition. The Dubai World Championship is in his sights as well as the opportunity to receive more than £1.7 million in a single day.
Following a 66, Donald is on 10-under, four behind Quiros, who in turn is two ahead of Scotland's Paul Lawrie and three ahead of South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen. Quiros's nearest challengers are both former Open champions, although it is the sight of the world No 1 which will ring most bells. "This was the perfect round for me – exactly what I wanted," said Donald, reflecting on the six-birdie, no-bogey magnificence which hauled him from 12th. It looked effortless, as soon as he had made a 14-footer for birdie on the first after bogeying it the first two days. But he claimed it was anything but.
"History comes with pressure," said the 34-year-old. "It definitely feels different out there. I said from the start I could get in trouble if I concentrated on that required ninth position. But at times it's been tough not to. It's almost like being back playing in Q-School, somewhere I haven't been for 10 years. Despite all the great work I've done this year if I wasn't able to quite complete it tomorrow, I'd walk away feeling I missed out."
Donald, inevitably, declined to agree the job was done, but the fact he was saying "I have given myself a chance to win" told its own story. In many ways, this round encapsulated a season during which, in his own words, "the mistakes have been kept to a minimum". And even when his long game goes awry, his peerless short game is there to mop up. "When I got into trouble I was able to dig myself out," he said. "My career has been built on consistency and that was a good example of it."
In contrast, McIlroy's career has been built on his ball-striking and on the back nine there was a fine display to atone for the errors of the front nine. Three-over out, four-under in and McIlroy, after coming back from a three-shot deficit to win in Hong Kong last Sunday, had a 71, leaving him with the faintest of squeaks. "It would be nice to finish well, a top-three would be a good result," said McIlroy. He will then probably call it quits for the year, skipping next week's Thailand Championship, an event for which he has long been signed up.
McIlroy confirmed yesterday that he was diagnosed with dengue fever last month and the after-effects have taken their toll. "I'm tired, but I don't want to use that as an excuse because, as I showed on the back nine I can play good golf," said McIlroy, who was due to see the doctor last night. Perhaps the appearance of his girlfriend, the world No 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, on the 10th tee also perked him up. The rumour is that rather than travel to Thailand he will take the chance to look for a property in Dubai to act as a hub.
Meanwhile, Donald will return to Chicago and McIlroy prays he will make that journey with the praise bellowing in his direction. "From within the golfing family he will receive all the plaudits, but unfortunately outside the golfing world people will question whether he should be No 1 because he hasn't won a major," said McIlroy. "I really hope he does get the credit for the golf he has played. As I said, Luke deserves it."
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