Rory McIlroy targets fifth win of year in Dubai to close in on world No 1
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 03/11/19 5:26pm
Rory McIlroy revived his hopes of regaining his status as the world's No 1 golfer after edging out Xander Schauffele in a play-off to win his first WGC-HSBC Champions title.
McIlroy birdied the first extra hole to collect his fourth victory of the year, matching his haul of silverware in 2014 and 2015, and he now has one more start remaining as he continues his pursuit of long-time incumbent, Brooks Koepka.
With Koepka currently nursing a knee problem, McIlroy now knows that another strong week at the DP World Tour Championship later this month will lift him very close to the summit, although he has already shown enough good form to give himself plenty to build on for his 2020 campaign.
"I just wanted to play well until the end of the year to give myself a great platform going into 2020," he said. "Regardless of what happens in Dubai, I've already done that. I have a lot of world ranking points here, FedExCup points, and it's nice to be No 1 in that very early on in the season and be up there from the start.
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"Even though it's the end of the year, there's still a lot to play for - at least there is for me, anyway. You need to find things to motivate you and those are the things that motivated me to travel all this way to Asia and play hard the last couple weeks, and excited about how I've played.
"I've got one event left to try and replicate that play that I've shown over the last two weeks. I'm trying to chase down Brooks. I'm still a little behind I think, but I'm getting there. This win definitely helps and if I can get another win by the end of the year, I'll be feeling pretty good going into 2020.
"I'm playing well, and I don't think my game is going to go anywhere over the next two weeks, so hopefully I can turn up in Dubai and play well on a golf course that I've had success on and really finish the year off hopefully the way that I've played all year, which is consistently good golf.
"I really wanted to get another win before the end of the year, and now that I've done that, it would be nice to get two wins! To practice hard and to do all the right things, and to see it pay off like this and get wins like this, makes it all worthwhile.
"I've been very settled over the last 18 months. I've been comfortable with everything, my game, my equipment, and my body feels as good as it ever has at 30. I'm excited for the future. I feel like this year compares to 2014, 2015, but I don't see any reason why I can't go ahead and have an even better year next year."
Although McIlroy remains the world No 2 golfer, Schauffele believes the Northern Irishman is currently playing better than anyone on the planet and has enjoying playing alongside him for six rounds in Japan and China over the last two weeks.
"Rory is an elite player and, when he's on, I'd say he's arguably the best player in the world," said Schauffele. "He made me play better. I played with him in Japan, as well. I think I played six out of eight rounds. So he's made me better during my Asian Swing and I know what I need to do to become a better player.
"He's the best driver in our game, he's a great guy and I couldn't be happier for him. I tried my best and played great. I beat him on the day just to get in a play-off, but unfortunately I couldn't pull it off."