herald

Friday 31 October 2014

Rough for Rory rivals

RORY McILROY'S annus mirabilis closed with a fifth victory of the season in Dubai at the weekend and a message to all those behind him in the world ranking queue.

In any other year, he would be a shoo-in for the BBC Hall of Fame, announced in a fortnight's time, but McIlroy does not need England's Sports Personality of the Year award to legitimise his standing.

The gap to second in the world rankings, a position presently held by Luke Donald, is greater than at any point since Tiger Woods was the man to whom all deferred.

The manner of McIlroy's victory over Justin Rose was astonishing, five successive birdies to close, demonstrating not only technical command but a champion's heart.

McIlroy, at just 23 years old and with two major championships already in his possession, is already on a rare career trajectory. The worry for his rivals is the look in his eye when asked about the year ahead. For him, 2013 cannot come soon enough.

"Every goal that I set myself at the start of 2012, I've achieved this year," he said. "The goal is the same for next year, to be focused on the majors, try to win more of those.

"I've won one in 2011, one in 2012, it would be nice to keep that run going next year. I just try to keep improving as a player. I feel like I can improve in different areas of the game still. That's the challenge and the fun of practice, trying to get better all the time."

McIlroy is expected to confirm his participation at the Irish Open in Carton House within the next fortnight to provide a huge boost to the event.

McIlroy has vowed to cut back on his tournament schedule in 2013, but the world No 1 is determined to support his national championship.

Sensational

This will place the Irish Open in privileged company alongside the British Open at Muirfield and, probably, May's BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth as the Ulster phenomenon once again plays a maximum three events in Continental Europe next year.

McIlroy's sensational victory on Sunday has established Holywood's world No 1 as the biggest draw in golf.

His closest rival, Donald, emerged from the scorer's hut like a veteran returning from the front, in part due to overexposure to McIlroy, and also as a result of a sinus condition that requires surgery.

Donald began the final round at the DP World Tour Championship sharing with McIlroy a three-shot lead. After two holes he led outright by two shots. What he witnessed thereafter left him struggling to find his bearings.

"Rory has been the best player all year and that was some finish by him," said Donald.

"You have to give him a lot of credit for digging deep.

"I think both of us weren't feeling 100pc physically, but he found the strength to finish like that, and hats off to him, what a way to finish off a great year for him."

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