Dubai (UAE): Defending champion Henrik Stenson will go head-to-head with World Number One and 2014 Race to Dubai winner Rory McIlroy when the DP World Tour Championship gets underway in Dubai today (Thursday) with the Swede intent on spoiling McIlroy’s coronation at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Twelve months ago, Stenson lit up the Earth course with a stunning six-shot victory over England’s Ian Poulter setting a tournament record of 25-under par in the process.
But the Iceman knows that will count for nothing when the top 60 players on The European Tour do battle for the final title of the 2014 season.
“Even though I shot -25 last year, I can’t think about that this week,” said Stenson. “The ball doesn’t know what we did last year – it has to be told. I’m not guaranteed anything just because I played well last year. Yes, I know how to play this course but I still have to do it, stay focused and patient and do it all over again.”
Stenson and McIlroy will be the final two-ball of the day and sure to attract the largest gallery of the day at Jumeirah Golf Estates when they tee off at 12.30pm.
“Last year was very special and while I know it can’t be as special this year because Rory has already won the overall Race to Dubai, I can make it a very special week for myself by playing well here and hopefully giving myself a chance to win,” added Stenson. “I haven’t successfully defended a title yet, so I couldn’t think of a much better place to do it than here this week.”
With McIlroy already home and dry in the standings, all eyes will be on the battle for second place, currently occupied by Stenson but with a clutch of stars including Welshman Jamie Donaldson, Germany’s Marcel Siem and Sergio Garcia of Spain breathing down his neck.
However, with so many points available to the tournament winner, Stenson’s Ryder Cup team-mate and great rival Ian Poulter is also well in the hunt – something many would have considered highly improbable just a few weeks back.
But a successful recent run of form in the Final Series has seen Poulter make a late season charge and he now has his sights firmly set on wrestling second place from the Swede.
“I feel good about what’s happened the last couple of weeks,” said Poulter, on the eve of his opening round. “Number one is gone but there is still a big bonus for being number two and that would upset the current number two who is Mr Stenson – so I’ll be chasing him down like I was chasing him down last year. Bring it on!”
It has been a remarkable run by Poulter who ranked 64th on The Race to Dubai two weeks ago but who is now up to 13th after a share of sixth place at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and a second place finish at last week’s Turkish Airlines Open by the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
“It’s nice to come into this stretch and feel I can salvage something in 2014. After finishing sixth then second, it would be nice to win this week and move nicely up that board so that has to be the aim this week.”
If Poulter were to triumph this week, he may offer a word of thanks to two-time Major winner Greg Norman. The Australian recently offered Poulter some putting advice and the Englishman is keen to see if the tips will make a difference when he takes on the challenge of the 7,675-yard Earth course, designed by Norman himself.
“It was nice to Greg to reach out and I will take on board what he said but I’ve been working hard on my putting so I’ll get on the putting green today and see if what he said is right or wring,” said Poulter, who finished runner-up at the DP World Tour Championship in both 2010 and 2013.
Play gets underway at 7.30am today (Thursday) with Italy’s Matteo Manassero and England’s Mathew Baldwin getting the tournament up and running. Poulter will get his challenge underway at 11.30am alongside Holland’s Joost Luiten before a host of Ryder Cup stars join up for a mouthwatering finale to the season, including Martin Kaymer pairing with Graeme McDowell (11.40am) and Victor Dubuisson playing with Thomas Bjorn (11.50am).