Blow for blow, putt for putt, they go into the season's final reckoning. And the £1.6 million prize money to the winner is the least of it. Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald have already banked enough for a dozen lifetimes. The real jackpot goes to The DP World Tour Championship organisers in Dubai, host to a Sunday shoot-out between the best two golfers in the world. And to a global television audience running into millions.
This is what sport is all about. Mano-a-mano down that fabled golfing tract commonly known as the stretch. McIlroy has been pawing the tee boxes all week for a shot at Donald. He could not recall with certainty where or when he went head to head on the last day of a tournament before, as opposed to teeing off in the marquee group at the start of an event.
McIlroy speculated that it might have been as far back as 2007, his rookie year. He was right, and just a pup back then. He isn't much out of nappies now in professional terms, but his golf is beyond the reach of any at its best, beyond even that of Donald, who is playing at his own formidable peak on this track.
Both went round in 66 yesterday to open a three-shot lead over the field. McIlroy dismantled the Earth Course with, on average, a driver and a wedge, Donald with a big stick and a six-iron. As they say in this game, it is not how but how many that counts. That Donald could take the top off a boiled egg from 130 yards out is as much a weapon as McIlroy's fearsome length off the tee. That they are playing with different can-openers today adds to the attraction.
"No matter what happens I guess I'll still be No 1 going into next year," McIlroy said. "But it will be nice to put an exclamation mark on it, if you want. So it's important. I really want to win. I think that's obvious. Every time I've gone out with a chance to win [this year] I've played well, given myself a chance. That is what I want to do tomorrow. I've not really had too many battles with him."
Donald, who won for the third time this season in Japan last week, echoed McIlroy's sentiment about playing his own game and not being influenced by the rivalry. He brings to the contest a record statistic on the European Tour of completing a century of holes without dropping a shot at this course. A 15-footer on the 12th for par was as close as he came to ending the run, which began after the eighth hole of the second round last year.
"That is some going," Donald said. "It's difficult to fathom even for myself but something I will store away in the memory banks. I guess it's testament to how I play the game. I keep the ball in front of me and when I do get in trouble I have a good enough short game to bail myself out."
And the significance of seeing off McIlroy? "In terms of my own confidence it would be a great way to finish off the year. Any time you come out on top against the best in the world you are going to feel good."