The two-time major winner, who has already wrapped up the European Tour money title, is the favorite to win the season-ending tournament that starts Thursday. But several other Ryder Cup stars, including Ian Poulter and second-ranked Luke Donald, would like to cap off their seasons with a victory.
There are others, including South African newcomer Branden Grace, who know a strong finish could help them move up the rankings and qualify for a major in 2013. A top-30 finish gets them into the British Open, top 15 into the U.S. Open and a top 10 on the money list gets them a share of the $3.75 million in bonus money.
The 13th-ranked Poulter, who struggled earlier in the year, has played some of his best golf since helping lead Europe to the Ryder Cup victory over the United States in September. After his putting fueled the come-from-behind victory, Poulter won the HSBC Champions for his second career World Golf Championships title. He also finished second last week at the Australian Masters.
"I'm looking forward to this week," said Poulter, whose penalty in a two-way playoff cost him a shot at the 2010 Dubai title. "I guess I'm in some pretty good form, so feeling like we can end the year on a very high note and move further in the world rankings, which would be very pleasing."
The challenge for Poulter is translating the success he's had at the Ryder Cup into more consistency on the PGA and European Tour. He had four wins in four matches at Medinah and his 12-3 career record is the highest winning percentage of any European golfer in history.
"I can produce and it is within me," Poulter said. "It comes out in the Ryder Cup. So why shouldn't I be able to produce that week in, week out?
" We just have to see how long we can keep doing it for. When you look at the best players in the world, they are doing it week in, week out. So there is no reason why I shouldn't sit among those guys."
Donald arrived in Dubai last year on the cusp of making history as the first golfer to win the PGA and European Tour money titles. This time around, he is overshadowed by McIlroy, who has repeated the 35-year-old Brit's feat but at a much younger age (2x).
Still, the Chicago-based Donald has been playing better since contributing to the European Ryder Cup win. He beat Bubba Watson to launch Europe's comeback and arrives on the heels of winning the Dunlop Phoenix Open, his first victory in Japan.
It marked his third title of the season following wins on the PGA Tour and European Tour and allowed him to overtake Tiger Woods for the No. 2 ranking.
"What I did last year brings back a lot of great memories," said Donald, who finished third last year in Dubai to clinch the Order of Merit title. "It's an event with the top (57) guys from the year and another chance to obviously play against some of the best players in the world and try to win a tournament."
Several of the rising stars of the tour are looking to cap career seasons. The 38th-ranked Grace earned his first four victories this season on the European Tour and a good showing could result in cracking the top 30.
"It's been a great year. If I put into words, it would be a dream come true," Grace said. "One thing led to another, once I got my first win everything led into the other, that's how it happens. The year's not over. The course is in great shape. I think this is a long hitters golf course so if you can get out there, you should be able to score around this place."
Big-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts won a second victory on the European Tour in 2012, and he could move up one spot into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai with a strong finish.
"My season has been far better than my expectation already, so this would be the icing on the cake," Colsaerts told The Associated Press.
Looking ahead to next year, the 30-year-old Belgian said he would like to improve at the majors, especially those in America. He tied for seventh at the British Open but missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for 27th at the U.S. Open.