The UBS Hong Kong Open represents a chance for leading contenders Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy to put one hand on the Harry Vardon Trophy.
Former Order of Merit winner Westwood, 36, leads 20-year-old McIlroy by a mere 52,321 euros with this week’s tournament the penultimate event before the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
McIlroy leapt ahead of Martin Kaymer and trimmed Westwood’s advantage with a superb fourth in Shanghai last week. Westwood, who topped the European Tour money list in 2000, was forced to settle for eighth following a disappointing final round.
With third-placed Kaymer heading back to Germany for further tests on his injured foot and fifth-placed Paul Casey missing Hong Kong due to a long-standing rib injury which could also rule him out of Dubai, in-form duo Westwood and McIlroy have a chance to move into pole position at Fanling this week.
Westwood said: “It would be nice to have a lead going into the last event because it means that if I win the event I will win the money list, my fate is in my hands so I would like to come out of this week still in front.
“This week is going to have an effect. We are playing for big prize money next week, but it would certainly help winning this week.”
Current world number four Westwood won seven times worldwide in 2000 to become European number one, while McIlroy is mounting his first serious challenge on the Tour’s money list after only posting a maiden career victory in Dubai at the start of the year.
The Northern Irishman said: “Winning this event will take care of catching Lee so that’s what I am focusing on.
“I will be keeping an eye on Lee’s scores all week.
“There is not much between us now so any ground I can gain this week will be good to take into Dubai, but winning will take care of that gap so that is my main focus.
“These two weeks are going to be very good. I love coming to Hong Kong. It’s my fifth year coming here – twice as an amateur and then this is my third Hong Kong Open. I love the city and the golf course.
“It is one of my favourite weeks of the year.”
Both players have hit form at the right time with Westwood, a winner of 30 worldwide titles, claiming a ninth top 10 finish in his last 10 stroke play events last week.
“I played pretty well in 2000 and in 1998-99 when I was winning a lot of events, but I feel better now,” the Worksop golfer added.
“I feel my game has become more rounded and there are less weaknesses so now it is just a case of finishing it off more often like I did in the late ’90s and 2000.
“My previous highest place (on the world rankings) was fourth back in 2000 and I was there for two or three weeks so to go through a slump and get back to fourth obviously means a lot, it probably means more than anything I have done this year so far.”
McIlroy has posted top-10 finishes in his last five stroke play events with last week’s fourth place coming after setting a course record of nine-under-par during his final round.
The world number 17 said: “I have had my chances to win after Dubai. I had a chance at the European Open where if I shot 70 on the last day I would have won. I sort of had a chance in Switzerland where I had two bad holes and I was second in the Alfred Dunhill Links,” he added.
“There have been chances but it has been such a consistent year with 12 top-10s and 10 top fives.”