McIlroy unfazed by caddie change as five remain in Race to Dubai running

By Sports Desk November 19, 2019

Rory McIlroy is expecting a "fun week" after recruiting a familiar face to step in as his caddie for the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

After winning in Shanghai in his previous outing at the start of the month, McIlroy is back in action at the European Tour's season-ending event as he bids to finish a successful 2019 on a high.

The world number two has already won four tournaments this year and knows this week's course extremely well, having triumphed there previously in 2012 and 2015.

However, he will have to do so without the services of regular caddie Harry Diamond, who is absent following the birth of his first child. Instead, McIlroy has turned to long-time friend and former rugby player Niall O'Connor - who represented Ireland A during his career - to help him out.

"It's going to be a fun week to get out there with Niall on the bag and hopefully I can play well the first few days and we'll get into the heat of battle hopefully on the weekend and that will be something that will be fun for both of us," McIlroy said.

"I'll maybe take on a little bit more responsibility than I usually do and jot stuff down. It feels a little bit like when Harry first came on the bag a couple years ago.

"I took on a little more responsibility writing stuff in my yardage book and pacing stuff out. I actually quite enjoy that part, too.

"You know what, it will be fun. Obviously Niall and I go back a long way, so for me at this point it's just about trying to stay as relaxed and as loose as possible out there and he can definitely do that for me."

While McIlroy is chasing another title, he is not in the running to finish the year at the top of the European rankings.

Instead, five players are still battling to be crowned the Race to Dubai champion. Bernd Wiesberger leads the way but has some big-name contenders within striking distance, including Open champion Shane Lowry.

"I'm going to go out and give my best this week and no matter what happens, I will be sitting back next week with a major trophy in my cabinet this year, and I'll be happy with what I have," Lowry told the European Tour.

"But it would be incredible to add European number one to that list as well."

Lowry sits fourth in the standings, sandwiched in between Jon Rahm and Matthew Fitzpatrick. However, Tommy Fleetwood - victorious at the Nedbank Challenge last week - is the closest challenger to Austrian Wiesberger.

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    The American moved into a one-shot lead from Cameron Champ and Scottie Scheffler after a five-under 65 left him at nine under for the tournament following round three.

    Johnson has just one major win to his name at the 2016 U.S. Open but has been a perennial challenger and has runners-up finishes at golf's other three majors.

    The former world number one is confident that being in those situations in the past can aid his bid at TPC Harding Park.

    "I definitely have experience in this situation that definitely will help tomorrow. I've been in the hunt a bunch of times in a major," he said. 

    "I've got one major, so having that experience is definitely going to be beneficial tomorrow.

    "But it's one of those things. I'm still going to have to go out and play really good golf. This is a tough golf course, the greens are getting really firm. They are fast. So I think the wind is going to blow again tomorrow, so it's going to play difficult.

    "I look forward to the challenge and I will definitely be relying on a lot of that experience that I have."

    Asked what will be different about the previous times he has led or co-led a major, Johnson replied: "I was definitely younger. I have been out here a while now.

    "I've been in contention a lot, and I've got it done a lot of times. Tomorrow, it's no different. I'm going to have to play good golf if I want to win."

    Champ is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and is leading the driving average off the tee in 2020.

    The 25-year-old said he is comfortable being at the top of leaderboards and is ready to embrace any nerves that come on Sunday.

    "There's definitely a comfortability there. I've been in that situation a few times. I embrace it. I love it. Again, this is what we play for, to get in contention, to win tournaments," he said.

    "Obviously this is a major…I'm sure there will be a little bit of nerves at some point throughout the round, but again, that's part of it."

    Scheffler, who matched Johnson's 65, is aiming to become the first player since Keegan Bradley in 2011 to win the PGA Championship on his tournament debut.

    "There's definitely some nerves but just got to try and handle them as best I can and go out and play," he said.

    "I did a good job of that today just staying in the right frame of mind, hitting good, positive swings and made some nice birdies."

  • I like my chances...he's only won one: Koepka sets the PGA battle lines for Johnson I like my chances...he's only won one: Koepka sets the PGA battle lines for Johnson

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    On a fascinating moving day at TPC Harding Park, former world number one Johnson climbed into a one-shot lead as a five-under-par 65 left him nine under for the tournament.

    But Koepka, aiming to win the tournament for the third straight year, is only two shots back himself as the first major of 2020 nears a thrilling conclusion.

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    "Well, if you look at the top of the leaderboard, I'd say yes [it is more difficult to win a second major]," he added.

    "I think expectations. I guess it does become difficult if you think you've played good enough to win multiple ones. 

    "But you've just got to keep putting yourself there. I'm doing a good job of that. But the second one definitely is a little bit tougher, I think, as you can see from the top of the leaderboard.

    "I'm playing good so I like my chances. Just put the ball in the fairway a few more times and not in the semi. 

    "That would be all right, just not short-side myself. If I can do that tomorrow and not short-side myself, I'll have a good chance."

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    Brooks Koepka remains in contention to complete a US PGA Championship three-peat after keeping new leader Dustin Johnson in his sights on Saturday.

    Johnson will take a one-stroke advantage into the final round after firing a crisp 65 to reach nine under, but the 2019 runner-up looks set to face a strong challenge from the man who beat him to last year's title.

    Back-to-back champion Koepka (69) picked up two shots over the final three holes to recover from a potentially damaging run of three straight bogeys.

    Overnight leader Li Haotong coped less successfully with the pressure, carding a costly three-over 73 that included three bogeys and a double at the 13th.

    Johnson, four shots back through 36 holes, ran into trouble with a double bogey of his own at the ninth, before steadying to finish with eight birdies on moving day.

    The one-time major champion holds a narrow lead over Scottie Scheffler (65) and Cameron Champ (67), who are tied for second.

    Cole Morikawa (65) and Paul Casey (68) are level with Koepka at seven under, but all eyes will be on the 30-year-old American on Sunday.

    He could become the first golfer to win the tournament three times in a row since Walter Hagen in the 1920s.

    Six men, including the improving Bryson DeChambeau (66) and 2015 winner Jason Day (70), are a further shot back at six under.

    Tiger Woods fell well out of contention after carding a two-over 72 for the second successive round.

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