x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A long stretch for home

The idea of Button frightening Vettel does sort of reside in the general Blackburn Rovers-2011/12 league-title neighbourhood.

As a daring venturer in the crowded waters of the sporting planet, the UAE has blossomed as a denouement capital, and we all know the peril therein.

To stage any finale or near-finale of any year-long sporting tour is to spend part of the time hoping against anticlimax.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Formula One's final race last year and its 18th of 19 this time around, held a stirring denouement last year and has a clear path to doing so again.

As Sebastian Vettel holds an astronomical 309 points while second-placed Jenson Button a tortoise's 185 after 14 races, the only thing that has to happen is as follows: Button wins the Japanese Grand Prix while Vettel finishes outside the top 10, Button wins the Korean Grand Prix while Vettel finishes outside the top 10, Button wins the Indian Grand Prix while Vettel finishes outside the top 10, and voila, intrigue reigns on Yas Island.

Now, some statistical sticklers will tell you that in 14 races Vettel has finished outside the top 10 this year precisely - wait, let me look it up here - OK, precisely zero times, and outside the top four exactly - checking again - OK, zero times, and outside the top two once in the entire, obstacle-laden campaign.

They will tell you that Button has won, OK, twice, so would have to outpace his entire season's victory haul, and that he has normal-human finishes such as sixth, fourth, sixth, sixth, 20th and 22nd.

And they will tell you harshly that as likelihoods go, the idea of Button frightening Vettel does sort of reside in the general Blackburn Rovers-2011/12 league-title neighbourhood.

These people are just so negative.

Buying into their expertise, though, it seems the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix might have to rely upon on a lavish array of parties, concerts, food, sunshine and one of the most stunningly beautiful sports facilities on Earth.

Good enough, but we still can hope that sometime this week, Vettel will grow bored and retire from the sport, effective immediately, even if that almost surely would not help.

As of Sunday evening on the money list of golf's December-bound, Dubai-bound Race to Dubai, top-ranked Luke Donald held a €1,295,590 (Dh6,337,707) lead over second-placed Rory McIlroy. That looks sturdy unless the currency happens to dissolve in which case the lead suddenly would become nil, but it's not that sturdy.

McIlroy made up €336,405 on Sunday at the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews by placing second to Donald's joint-ninth.

Lee Westwood, fourth in the Race to Dubai, said of Donald: "I think him being here tells you he doesn't think he's out of sight ... He's playing here this week and Madrid next week. He obviously thinks that the guys that have been around him are good enough to win the rest of the events he's playing in. I feel like I can win here, China and Dubai, and that will surely give me enough money to go past him, but he still has to play well."

Lavish purses beckon from Spain to Shanghai with at least two enticing concepts, one a sideshow.

In the first, the charismatic McIlroy charges through the balance of a year he outlined on Sunday: "I'm flying to Korea tomorrow morning and playing the Korean Open, and the week after, I play an exhibition in China, for seven days. And I go straight from China to Bermuda for the Grand Slam of Golf. Then I'm only in Bermuda for three days.

"And then I'm in Istanbul for four days watching some tennis. And then I'm in Shanghai for two weeks ... and then I've got two weeks off, which will be nice. Then I'll spend those in the Middle East or I'll spend them somewhere. Then I've got the World Cup of Golf in China again, Hong Kong Open, Dubai World Cup and the Thai Golf Championship."

(Note: one time when I was 22, some friends and I made a big road trip from university and wound up, like, 10 hours away from our home.)

The second involves Donald's startling pursuit of unprecedented money titles on both European and US tours. With his lead over Webb Simpson only US$68,971, (Dh253,323) there is speculation on whether the weary Simpson might butt into some anonymous autumnal event and force Donald to jet to somewhere like Orlando to keep up, presenting fatigue issues for Dubai.

Last week, Donald quipped that he might end up having to take his child to Disney World. A lot still might happen here in this denouement capital even if Vettel, at 24, opts not to retire.


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