SHANGHAI – Rory McIlroy returns to competition as the defending BMW Masters champion determined to end his best season as the European Tour No. 1.
McIlroy has joined 10 of his victorious European Ryder Cup teammates, captain Jose Maria Olazabal, and 28 of the top 30 players on the European money list for the tournament starting on Thursday on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Lake Malaren Golf Club.
McIlroy captured the inaugural tournament in a playoff with Anthony Kim last year, but this time it's sanctioned and the sixth-to-last on the 2012 schedule.
He's scheduled to play in four of the events, hoping to do well enough to emulate Luke Donald's feat last year of winning the money titles on the European and U.S. tours.
He leads both for now, but it's the Race to Dubai money list he dearly seeks after being runner-up in 2009 and 2011.
"It would be good to knock that off and try and do what Luke did last year and win the money on both tours," McIlroy said.
"I've got Justin (Rose) and Branden (Grace) right behind me, so if I do play well in my four events hopefully I can achieve that goal."
McIlroy leads Rose on the European Tour money list by $353,000, and is $634,200 ahead of Grace.
Rose and Grace could pass McIlroy by winning the $1.16 million first-prize check in the Chinese financial capital.
McIlroy competed last week in the exhibition World Golf Final in Turkey and was bundled out of the eight-man event in the round robin. The first matchplay showdown between McIlroy and Tiger Woods ended with Woods progressing to the semifinals in Antalya shooting a 64 to McIlroy's 70.
"If I had of known the summer I was going to have, I really would not have signed up for the Turkish event," McIlroy said. "But then I went and it was a pretty relaxing week, and I got to spend the week with (girlfriend) Caroline (Wozniacki), which was nice.
"However, I did not pick up a club since the Ryder Cup until the day before the Turkish match, so I wasn't taking it that seriously."
Next Monday, McIlroy will play Woods in another exhibition, the "Duel at Lake Jinsha," in the north-central Chinese city of Zhenghou.
"We are both really excited as it will be the first time we will ever do something like this together, and hopefully the first of a few occasions we can do this.
"I see it also as a good marketing exercise for Tiger and myself. We both enjoy each other's company, and besides there is not many guys I would do something like this with and I know he feels the same. So it should work well."
McIlroy has been drawn to play the opening two rounds of the BMW Masters with Rose and Lee Westwood.