Rory McIlroy retains belief he can pinch title from Francesco Molinari

Rory McIlroy has not given up hope of winning a fourth Race to Dubai title despite facing a massive deficit to Open champion Francesco Molinari.

Team Europe's Rory McIlroy during the Foursomes match on day two of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Paris. (Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire)

McIlroy is almost two million points behind Molinari and needs to win at least one of the remaining two events to overhaul the Italian, who enjoys a lead of just over one million points from Ryder Cup partner and defending champion Tommy Fleetwood. McIlroy has twice won the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai but has not played in this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge since 2009, when he was forced to withdraw after two rounds with a stomach virus.

Victory at Sun City would at least take the Northern Irishman to second on the money list and see him paired with Molinari for the opening round in Dubai, where players tee off in Race to Dubai order. “I’m coming here with the goal that if I can get into that final group on Thursday with Frankie next week, that would be a good start,” said McIlroy, who has not won a European Tour event since the 2016 Irish Open.

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“I can’t look too far ahead, but if I can do what I need to do this week, leapfrog a few guys and get into that final pair on Thursday, that would be a huge step.

“I’m going to need some great golf over the next two weeks, but we’ll see what happens this week. I feel like my game is in pretty good shape. I didn’t play great in China but I’ve had a week off and (have been) just sort of reflecting on things. Hopefully I can get off to a good start this week.”

McIlroy won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March, but has also played in the last group in the final round six times in 2018 – including in the Masters and Tour Championship – without claiming more wins.

“I’ve played good golf, I’ve played consistent golf, and I’ve played in six final groups this year but I haven’t had a win out of any of those final groups,” added McIlroy. “I think I played in four final groups in the previous two years combined, so it’s better.”

Former Nedbank winner Danny Willett is first off the tee this morning, while fellow Sheffielder Matt Fitzpatrick is also in the field.

Jordan Spieth finds himself below Tiger Woods in the world rankings for the first time in more than four years ahead of the Mayakoba Golf Classic.

At the end of 2017, Spieth was the reigning Open champion and ranked second in the world, while Woods had played one event in his latest comeback and was a lowly 656th. However, Woods is ranked 13th in the world while Spieth fell to 14th after a tie for 55th at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.