Rory McIlroy on salvage mission at the DP World Championship

The former world number one denies it has been 'a disastrous year'

Victory at the DP World Championship last year sealed the Race to Dubai title for Rory McIlory. Twelve months on topping the money list is not in his gift. McIlroy is on salvage duty at the European Tour’s grand finale.

Winless in 2013 and locked in legal dispute with his former management team, McIlroy is learning the hard way how to prioritise in professional sport. Even a talent as rich as his cannot take success for granted. Golf is a job like any other, and it must come first if the good life is to be sustained.

“As a golfer you want your mind as clear as possible, and it’s obviously hard for that to happen if you’ve got other things that are going on that, firstly, you don’t want to happen, and secondly you don’t feel should be happening,” McIlory said, in reference to the ongoing legal battle to extricate himself from estranged representatives Horizon.

“It’s not the place that I want to be in. But it hasn’t been a disastrous year. I’ve played well in patches. I guess I learnt last year how to deal with the hype and people building you up, and this year I’ve learned to deal with the criticism. I haven’t played consistently well. I haven’t given myself as many chances to win as I would have liked. But my game feels in really good shape and I’ve got a few tournaments left this year to try and put a win on the board.”

With McIlroy fighting for pride, nine golfers are engaged in the business of replacing him as Europe’s no.1. Henrik Stenson, the Race to Dubai leader, is in pole position more than 200,000 Euros clear of his nearest rival Justin Rose. Either of those, or third placed in the money list, Graeme McDowell, will guarantee no.1 spot with victory on Sunday.

Fourth placed Ian Poulter is crowned king with victory as long as Stenson finishes third or lower. As ever he fancies the job. “If I could win this week and win The Race to Dubai, that would be a huge achievement. As a personal goal that's something that every player wants to do.

“I've always done well under pressure, like my school report and school work. I never handed it in until the last minute. I always produced my best at the last minute. I love the golf course. And I've played it really well in the past.”