Preview of the BMW Masters
The BMW Masters on the European Tour is the main focus of the week as there is no regular PGA event and Rory McIlroy has the best credentials to win a tournament that is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour.
All twelve of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup teams are competing in an event that is being staged at the Lake Malaren Golf Course in Shanghai and of those McIlroy is the most likely winner. Several of the team members have taken a break since that historic afternoon in Chicago and it would be a surprise if the winner was not one of the twelve.
McIlroy is now in great shape to win the Race to Dubai, formerly the European Order of Merit, and the US Money List. Luke Donald became the first player to win both titles in the same season last year and McIlroy is now well placed to match that achievement.
Justin Rose (pictured) is the most likely to overhaul the Irish player and win most money in Europe. However, he will probably have to win the BMW Masters this week and the World Tour Championship next month.
That season ending finale is open to the top 60 in the Order of Merit so the subplot of this week’s tournament involves players trying to earn enough money to qualify for Dubai. The five players just outside the top 60 are Michael Hoey, Joel Sjoholm, Martin Laird, David Howell and Henrik Stenson.
Laird is an affiliate member and already has his card secured on the US Tour for next season. The other four “bubble” players will be looking for a top 10 finish at least to qualify for the Tour Championship.
The Lake Malaren Golf Club course was designed by Jack Nicklaus. As is common with his layouts the course puts a premium on careful tee shots and approach play. The landing areas and greens are well protected by water and sand hazards so hitting the greens in the correct number of shots will be a key skill this week.
There are several risk-reward holes on which players must decide whether to go for the pin, carefully positioned to call upon an accurate shot but rewarded by eagle and birdie opportunities, especially on the four par fives.
The layout in Shanghai suits several of the leading contenders and Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood in particular should relish the conditions of the challenge ahead. Poulter is one of just six players in the field with course experience and that can be a significant factor in determining the outcome of tournaments on any tour.
McIlroy won last year’s Shanghai Masters on the course so he clearly has positive mental associations with the venue. He beat Anthony Kim in a play-off after recording a score of 18 under in regular play. That local knowledge and his skill’s profile makes McIlroy a leading contender in China.