It's been a dazzling year for Irish golfers. Only a year ago Rory McIlroy was hoping to end his second season as a professional at the top of the European Tour rankings. But now, just twelve months later, he's looking to close out 2010 by stepping into in the World's top five.

It's well witin his reach. There are now just 2.86 world ranking points separating Lee Westwood at number one and U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell at number ten.

“From fifth to ninth on the world rankings is just so close, so if I can get a couple of good results in my last few events this year, I could easily end the year as high as number five,” McIlroy told the press after carding a 71 on day one of the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai.

“So, that's the goal and it also would be a great way to start the New Year being top five in the world. I ended last year at number nine and as this game is all about moving forward, that's why number five is the big target. From there, it's just over one point to No 1 but, for now, I'll settle for number five.”

As McIlroy aims to move higher up in the rankings, it turned out to be a somber day for himself, Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell in the opening round of the $7 million event in China.

McIlroy left himself six shots behind Ryder Cup team-mate, Francesco Molinari, who now heads the event at seven-under-par.

“It always leaves a sour taste in your mouth to bogey the last, but I am definitely playing better than I have been for the last few weeks,” McIlroy told the press.

“There's a few positives to take from the round, I putted really well in taking only 27 putts. So, all in all a 71 is not too bad. It could have been a little better, but it also could have been worse.”