A Long Year for McIlroy, a Sprint to the Finish

U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy feels like it already has been a long year on and off the golf course. All he cares about now is a sprint to the finish.

Coming off a playoff win at the Shanghai Masters and its $2 million payoff, McIlroy is naturally a favorite at the HSBC Champions that starts on Thursday. It's a World Golf Championship that counts toward the European Tour money list and could go a long way toward helping McIlroy make up ground on Luke Donald.

McIlroy trails Donald by about $1.8 million, and the $7 million HSBC Champions pays out $1.2 million to the winner. Donald, who two weeks won the U.S. PGA Tour money title by winning at Disney World, skipped this WGC event to await the birth of his second child.

"With him not being here this week ... I feel like I've got a chance to cut into the lead a little bit," McIlroy said on Wednesday after spending five hours in a rainy pro-am. "It would be fantastic to get another win, the second win in two weeks, and cut into that lead. But it's such a strong field here, and there's a lot of guys with a chance to win."

It's already been a memorable year for McIlroy in so many ways.

First came his Sunday meltdown at the Masters, where he lost a four-shot lead by shooting 80 in the final round. He bounced back in a big way with a win in the U.S. Open at Congressional, shattering the scoring record with an eight-shot win.

Off the course, he has a new girlfriend in tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, and a new manager after a stunning split two weeks ago with longtime agent Chubby Chandler.

That's a lot of drama, especially for a 22-year-old from Northern Ireland who has emerged as the biggest young star in the game. McIlroy is surprised by the amount of attention, although he is determined to not let it distract him from what he's trying to do.

"I think the most important thing for me at the moment is just to concentrate on my golf and make that the primary focus, which it always has been," he said. "I've got a good run coming up to the end of the season. All I'm trying to do is concentrate on finishing this year off really well and put me in a good position going into next year."

McIlroy is No. 3 in the world and has a chance to pass Lee Westwood at No. 2. Donald, who has racked up 500 world ranking points this year, is out of reach for everyone at the moment.

Wozniacki has joined him in Shanghai and followed him around in the pro-am on Wednesday.

"I've been to a couple of her tennis tournaments," McIlroy said. "This is the first time that she's at a golf tournament, and if the weather keeps going like this, it might be the last one she's at, as well. No, it's good to have her here."

McIlroy declined to get into specifics about his change to Horizon Sports Management, the same group that represents Graeme McDowell, only that he wants a fresh outlook on achieving his goals.

The 78-man field is strong, even though it has only five of the top 11 in the world ranking.

A year ago, Francesco Molinari and Westwood battled through the weekend in a duel of the highest level, with Molinari winning by one over Westwood, and by 10 shots over third place.

Source: Associated Press

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