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McIlroy looking to become first among equals

The field for the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament that gets under way in Shanghai tomorrow has six players who have reached No.1 in the world rankings.

 

Brooks Koepka is the man of the moment having just knocked Dustin Johnson, his fellow American, from the top perch by winning the CJ Cup in South Korea on Sunday. How long he stays there, however, is anyone’s guess. It is like a revolving door at the top of the game at present.

 

There are more than just bragging rights on the line when the likes of Koepka, Johnson, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Adam Scott line up against each other. They boast 11 major championships between them and inevitably raise their games for the biggest events. This week will be no exception.

 

One player determined to make up for a little lost time is McIlroy who, surprisingly, last topped the rankings in 2015. The Northern Irishman, who is presently ranked No.5, would like to reach the pinnacle once again and is looking to set the process rolling with victory at a pristine, beautifully prepared Sheshan International.

“It’s a great accolade and a great honour to be world No.1 and I’d love to get back there one day,” McIlroy said on the eve of the tournament.

 

“If you play well enough it looks after itself. Brooks is No.1 right now because he’s played the best golf over the past six months to a year. If you play good golf and win tournaments the ranking is a by-product of that.”

 

The four-time major champion has had five top ten finishes in his previous appearances at the WGC-HSBC Champions and professes a liking for a course that favours the long hitters.  “I’ve played well here and have had some good finishes,” he said. “I just haven’t had the win, so hopefully this is the year. If my game’s sharp this week I’ll have a chance.”

 

McIlroy, who has had three weeks off since playing in the winning Europe Ryder Cup team, certainly fancies his chances on a course he describes as “one of the best” in this part of the world. His last win came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the US in March so he is keen to finish the year on a high note.

 

“It’s a great golf course, one that definitely suits the big hitters,” he said. “There are four par fives and a couple of driveable par fours that give you a good chance to score well. You have to keep the ball on the fairway, though, because it’s difficult to control the ball out of the rough. The fairways have also been pinched in a little bit so scoring may be a bit tougher this year.”

 

While McIlroy is looking to get back to winning ways, Koepka is looking to consolidate his position at the top of the rankings. The winner of two majors this year – the US Open and the US PGA Championship – the 28-year-old American has moved his game onto another level since he played six years ago as a young professional on the second tier Challenge Tour. “I’m looking forward to teeing it up as No.1,” Koepka said. “That’s something every golfer dreams of and wants to accomplish. I’m looking to build on that lead and grow it, so that I can be No.1 for a while. The goal isn’t just to get there, it’s to stay there.”

 

Rose, the defending champion, would concur. Victory at Sheshan International kick-started a superb season for the Englishman, who went on to win three more times worldwide before sealing the FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour. Along the way, he became only the fourth Englishman, behind Nick Faldo, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, to become world No.1.

 

“That was a milestone moment,” Rose said. “If I had to choose one highlight from the year that would be it. Getting to No.1 is a career’s amount of work.”