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All the stars come out to play
By Neville Leck Last updated: 23rd October 2012
Europe's principle Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter and World No 1 Rory McIroy spearhead the powerful field that this week will bid to win the European Tour's richest first prize at the BMW Masters in Shanghai, China.
And they are only the tip of the iceberg, for also teeing it up on Thursday at Lake Malaren Golf Club, home of Asia's first Jack Nicklaus Legacy Golf Courses, are skipper Jose Maria Olazabal and nine other members of his victorious team that edged the US in last month's Ryder Cup thriller at the Medinah Golf Club in Chicago.
Along with McIlroy and Poulter, who won all four of his matches at Medinah, the other European Ryder Cup players in the field include World Nos 3, 4 and 5, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, Belgium bomber Nicolas Colsaerts, Swede Peter Hanson, Scottish veteran Paul Lawrie, McIlroy's Northern Ireland compatriot Graeme McDowell, Germany's Martin Kaymer, whose rock-solid winning putt ensured that Europe would retain the Cup, and Italy's Francesco Molinari, whose tied match with Tiger Woods at the back of the field finally wrapped it up for Europe at 14½-13½.
For McIlroy, the massive $2m first prize and the total prize fund of $7m is a huge incentive as he bids to repeat Donald's feat last year of topping the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Also making him a stand-out favourite this week is the fact that he won last year's Shanghai Masters on this very same Masters Course at Lake Malaren and should go into it with his confidence high as he seeks a BMW double - having won the BMW Championship during the FedEx Cup play-offs in the US last month.
Right now the 23-year-old golfing magician leads the race to Dubai by €437,33 from Rose and is in an unbeatable, near $2m clear of Tiger Woods in the US money race.
He also tops the World Rankings and nobody doubts that he has been the planet's best golfer in 2012 and, yes, has the all-round talent to keep the momentum going and repeat Donald's 2011 heroics.
But there is a question about his focus, for there have been occasions this year when he has come back from taking a week or two off looking a little rusty and with his mind seemingly elsewhere and has disappointed as he did in Turkey a couple of weeks ago when he was quite badly trounced by Tiger Woods in their face-to-face, medal match-play battle.
McIlroy, not altogether surprisingly, did not take the made-for-TV Turkey affair very seriously, boasting before he teed off that he hadn't touched a club since the Ryder Cup. But if what he told the press this week reflects his attitude right now, there will be nothing casual about his approach in China.
He said: "I can't wait to return to Shanghai. It will definitely be special going back there as a reigning Major Champion once again, The Chinese fans have always supported me over the years and I am delighted to return there as a multiple Major winner.
"I have had some great results in China in recent years, obviously including a win during my first visit to Lake Malaren last October. Of course my win in Hong Kong a few weeks later - especially the way in which I did it - was also special and is something I will never forget.
"The (inaugural) BMW Masters looks like it is going to be a top class tournament so to go to back to Lake Malaren and win for the second time would really put the icing on the cake of what has already been a great year for me."
McIlroy is clearly aware that with the Ryder Cup celebrations a thing of the past, the Race to Dubai now in sharp focus, no one is going to walk all over a field that is as strong as this one and even if its not a Ryder Cup team-mate, like the in-form Westwood who won in Turkey, who will ultimately have to be defeated, there are a good few others in the stellar Shanghai line-up who are sporting the kind of form and confidence that wins titles - and the big money that will going with it this week.
Australia's World No 1 Adam Scott is clearly one of them - and from the sounds he has been making this week, he firmly believes he is carrying the kind of form that could put him back on the victory trail as the European Tour heads for its big money finale in Dubai next month.
And it might be a mistake to overlook the likes of Englishman Danny Willett and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, for like McIlroy, they too will be bidding for a BMW double, Willett having won the BMW International Open and and Fernandez-Castañon the BMW Italian Open earlier this season.
Right now, Spain's Miguel Ángel Jiménez is the only player ever to have won two BMW tournaments in one season.
This was in 2004 when he was victorious at both the BMW International Open and the BMW Asian Open, the forerunner to this week's BMW Masters. And while eight years have passed since then and age is starting to take its toll, the charismatic, cigar-puffing Ferrari owner can still not be taken for granted.
So yes, you can expect a weekend of thrills and spills as Europe's elite get back into battle in the final weeks of the Race To Dubai.
Ian Botham, Allan Lamb, Mark Boucher and company in action at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Go to Gallery
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