McIlroy could become youngest Euro No 1 since 79


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Rory McIlroy is trying to shake off the pressure as he bids to become the youngest player to finish at the top of the European Tour money list in 30 years.

The 20-year-old Northern Irish golfer leads the standings going into the season-ending Dubai World Championship starting Thursday. He could be the youngest player to win the Order of Merit since Seve Ballesteros did it at the age of 19 in 1979.

England’s Lee Westwood, Germany’s Martin Kaymer and England’s Ross Fisher are also still in contention for the European No. 1 title. The Dubai tournament – which offers a winner’s prize of $1.25 million – features 58 of the top 60 players on the European money list following last week’s Hong Kong Open.

The winner of the money title will also collect a $1.5 million bonus as part of The Race to Dubai.

With five top-5 finishes in his last seven tournaments, McIlroy begins the Dubai World Championship with a lead of U$191,000 in the money list.

“Because of all the money involved this week is going to be more exciting,” McIlroy said before heading off for a final practice session under the burning sun of the Arabian Desert. “And certainly the Race to Dubai has created a lot more excitement at the end of the season.

“How do I cope with the pressure? I just try to treat it like any other tournament and play the best golf I can. If I play as well as I can then everything else will fall into place. My goal this year was to try to break into the world’s top 10 and hopefully another good week will get me into that.”

McIlroy was questioned about his recent decision to join the U.S. PGA Tour in 2010 when he will chase the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. Some senior European players who belong to his management agency advised him not to make the move.

“Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke have tried playing there and it didn’t really work out for them,” McIlroy said. “They were giving me advice based on their past experiences. They would rather stay in Europe but I want to venture out.

“Most of the events I will be playing in America will have Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker (the current world top three) and I want to challenge myself against the best. Then I think I will become a better player.”