McIlroy on top of the world in Dubai

As battle begins to decide the Order of Merit, the 20-year-old prodigy tells James Corrigan why he has decided to switch to the US tour

First he will conquer Europe – and then he will move on to the Tour which really counts. That may sound a simplistic, if not disrespectful, assessment of the career path Rory McIlroy is planning to follow, but listening to the Ulsterman here yesterday it was difficult not to conclude that this Order of Merit title would be a mere forerunner of the accolades to come Stateside.

Certainly, for the European Tour hierarchy there would have been rather too many "best fields" and "better players" descriptions in McIlroy's eve-of-tournament press conference as he outlined the reasons why he has chosen to take up membership of the PGA Tour. They would have hoped that the entirety of the focus would have fallen on this remarkable golfer's attempt to become the second-youngest winner of their money list when the inaugural staging of the Dubai World Championship begins here this morning. Yet however golden the present might seem, the future continues to promise so much more.

"I had an opportunity to join the best fields in golf," said the 20-year-old. "Most of the events I'll play over there will include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker... I'll be playing with better players. I want to challenge myself against the best in the world."

First things first, there is the best in Europe to take care of and, although he holds a lead of more than £110,000 at the head of the standings, McIlroy's task is anything but a stroll to the £900,000 "Race to Dubai" bonus. Lee Westwood is his nearest pursuer and if the world No 5's chance is obvious then the challenges of Martin Kaymer, the 24-year-old German, and Ross Fisher, the 28-year-old Englishman, must also not be discounted. The recipient of the Harry Vardon Trophy on Sunday will emerge from this quality quartet.

Even allowing for the suspicion that a new layout which amounts to little more than a resort course will render this a glorified putting contest, Westwood is the main threat. The pair have enjoyed plenty of banter in the build-up and it is interesting that, before saying yea or nay to the Americans, McIlroy went to Westwood for advice. He also went to Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and his manager, Chubby Chandler. The fact he ignored them all shows the confidence of the lad. "I listened to my heart," he said. "The thing about Darren and Lee is that they both tried playing in America and it didn't work out. I get the feeling they would rather stay in Europe. I want to venture out and test my skills against the best in the world. Sometimes that's in America, sometimes that's over here."

So what will be the ratio? Chandler revealed yesterday that Mclroy's home tour should not be despondent. "It will be far from disastrous for the European Tour," he said. "Rory will only play a few tournaments less over here. I did think he should stay in Europe, because of the fatigue factor. But then you realise it has been his dream since he was 11 to play the PGA Tour and that his dad used to allow him to stay up late to watch it and then you think that at 20, if it all goes wrong, has he lost anything? No. I don't think he feels as if he's conquered Europe, but he wants to try the next stage. Normal rules don't apply to Rory."

Indeed, progress has occurred at a spectacular pace. McIlroy arrived in Dubai at the end of January, still living in his parents' terraced house and driving an Audi. Nine months on from his maiden win, McIlroy owns a Ferrari and is awaiting delivery of a Lamborghini. He resides in a 14-acre estate in Co Down. "When I turned pro in '07 I never thought I would get to this point so quickly," said McIlory, in just his second full season. "But after winning in Dubai I said my goal would be to try and break into the world's top 10 by the end of the year. Another good week here might get me there."

McIlroy is currently No 13 and a top-two placing would see him joining some illustrious names from both past and present. But they are names the impending European No 1 would plainly feel comfortable alongside. Here he was asked which route he would wish to take to the top – the Seve way or the Faldo way. "Nothing against Nick, but Seve had a lot more fans," said McIlroy. "He was the man." Ballesteros also happened to be the boy who won the Order of Merit when he was just 19. The precedents genuinely are that giddying.

TV: Sky Sports 1/HD1 (08:00-13:00)

Order of Merit: How they stand

Rory McIlroy First – £2,274,188

Will take the crown regardless of how he plays if Westwood is outside the top seven, Kaymer the top four and Fisher the top two.

Lee Westwood Second – £2,159,359

Cannot be stopped if he wins. If second he will be champion if McIlroy is not first or tied second and Kaymer does not win.

Martin Kaymer Third – £2,089,718

Cannot be stopped if he wins. If he is second he will be champion if McIlroy and Westwood are not first or tied second and Fisher does not win.

Ross Fisher Fourth – £1,885,904

Has to finish first or second just to have a chance. If he wins he will still be denied if McIlroy or Westwood finishes second.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor