Rory McIlroy set out in the final round of the Hong Kong Open this morning insisting the only concern occupying his mind was of going one better than he did last year at Fanling. However, he would not be human, and he would certainly not be 20, if the chance to thrust himself into pole position for next week's end-of-season spectacular was not intruding on his focus.
If the Ulsterman can lift the Order of Merit in Dubai he will become the second youngest winner in history, a little over a year older than Severiano Ballesteros when he stunned Europe way back in 1976. There is also the near £1m "Race To Dubai" bonus acting as an incentive, not to mention becoming the inaugural champion in the money list's new incarnation. All that is needed is to leapfrog Lee Westwood at the head of the standings and keep the other rivals for the Harry Vardon Trophy at bay.
Paul Casey had been one of these but the Englishman predictably pulled out yesterday as his rib injury fears continue to blight the second half of his year. That means only Westwood, McIlroy, Germany's Martin Kaymer and England's Ross Fisher remain in the running. The young man's hopes improved considerably yesterday.
McIlroy emphasised his liking for the course with a 65. That left him in third, five shots off the pacesetter, France's Grégory Bourdy. Perhaps more importantly, however, McIlroy was six shots ahead of Westwood languishing in 33rd and looking odds on to more than cover the £50,000 separating him and the Order of Merit leader and so head to the Middle East with a notable advantage.
Not that McIlroy was prepared to enter that discussion. "I'm just thinking about the tournament, that's all," he said, after his hard-fought round of five under. "I was in a similar position last year and shot a 65 to get into the play-off. I'll have to do something like that again."
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods was playing in the last round of the Australian Masters trying to forget a messy 72 in the third round which saw a four-stroke lead gobbled up by the locals, Greg Chalmers and James Nitties. Woods was so frustrated that, at one point, he tried to flip his driver after a poor shot and it came out of his hands and sailed over the gallery before a surprised fan caught it.Reuse content