x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai World Championship: Europe's final countdown

Title hopefuls endorse Tour while McIlroy will put friendship to one side as he has his own rankings rivalry to sort.

Rory McIlroy is a close friend of Race to Dubai contender and compatriot Graeme McDowell and an admirer of money-list leader, Martin Kaymer.
Rory McIlroy is a close friend of Race to Dubai contender and compatriot Graeme McDowell and an admirer of money-list leader, Martin Kaymer.

When the Dubai World Championship entered the golf scene 12 months ago it was billed with a hyperbolic play on words as "The Greatest Show on Earth".

Lee Westwood's masterclass made for a memorable opening to the event at the Earth Course last year, and things are nicely set for an even more exciting four days in this year's event

It has effectively become the final eliminator for the world championship of 2010 with Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell competing for that unofficial honour, watched closely by Westwood, the man who arrived in Dubai officially holding the title of the best player on the planet.

With the rest of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team providing the supporting cast along with a trio of South African major champions in Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen, the line-up at Jumeirah Golf Estates is as strong as they come.

In recent times, the Fed-Ex play-offs in the United States have been recognised as the most important climax to the golfing year and that series of PGA Tour events crowned Jim Furyk as champion.

Kaymer, however, expressed the opinion that the Race to Dubai which draws a memorable European season to a close on the Greg Norman-designed course this weekend, is a better structured seasonal finale.

Players in Europe initially focus on earning the right to travel to Dubai because only 60 of them are allowed into the event. Then, once the big guns have earned enough euros to secure their entry, they think about much greater things as Kaymer and McDowell are doing now.

Kaymer, who has led the Race to Dubai since capturing his first major title in the US PGA Championship in August, and McDowell, who occupies second place largely on the strength of his US Open triumph in June, go head to head in the last event of the campaign for the right to be crowned Europe's top golfer.

As Rory McIlroy, leader of the Race at this time last year, observed, you have to win a major nowadays to have any chance of finishing top of the European money list.

Westwood proved that theory wrong last year by storming to his DWC and Race double, but nobody in recent times has gone closer to winning a major without doing so than the consistent Englishman.

The declaration by Westwood in the first month of his reign as world No 1 to remain more committed to Europe than what used to be the superior partner across the Atlantic gives the European Tour a fantastic boost.

Likewise, the about-turn by McIlroy's who is cancelling his PGA membership after a single year on Tour, the Northern Irishman observing that it is "not a good fit" in a European golfer's way of life.

Most striking of all, however, was the announcement of Kaymer, who could finish this week as world No 1, that he has no interest in spending more than the basic amount of time in the United States.

He is still lamenting the go-kart accident that cost him an outstanding chance to win the first Race to Dubai and he is determined to make amends this year and in the future.

McDowell takes a more conciliatory stance to the PGA Tour he has supported since 2006 and indicated that his itinerary will remain well balanced in 2011.

That view is likely to change, though in 2012 for the man who sealed Europe's Ryder Cup victory last month.

The thought of losing his place in that 12-man team is too frightening to contemplate and he has promised to spend more of his time on the European Tour to ensure his qualification without a need for a wild card.

McIlroy is a long-standing close friend of fellow Ulsterman McDowell and that friendship has turned into fierce rivalry as the two occupy 10th and ninth places respectively in the world rankings.

"I hate the fact that he has gone ahead of me," McIlroy said, as he assessed the prospects of his friend for the coming weekend.

"But if anyone deserves the main honour this year it is him because I've seen how hard he has been working lately."

McIlroy is almost as fond of Kaymer.

"The most impressive thing about him is his modesty," he said. "He has a very strong game and just gets on with his business.

The earnings gap of €290,000 (Dh1.4 million) means McDowell has to finish in the top three in the DWC to have any hope of winning the Race.

First place guarantees him the title; second place for McDowell would leave Kaymer needing to finish third, while a third placing for McDowell would require Kaymer to finish in the top 20. Tied positions make the mathematics even more complicated.

wjohnson@thenational.ae

Tee-off times

07:30    Thomas Aiken (Rsa),    Soren Hansen (Den)
07:40    Robert-Jan Derksen (Ned),    Johan Edfors (Swe)
07:50    Gregory Bourdy (Fra),    Thomas Bjorn (Den)
08:00    Robert Rock (Eng),    Marcus Fraser (Aus)
08:10    Henrik Stenson (Swe),    Gary Boyd (Eng)
08:20    John Parry (Eng),    Chris Wood (Eng)
08:30    Oliver Wilson (Eng),    Richie Ramsay (Sco)
08:40    Soren Kjeldsen (Den),    Brett Rumford (Aus)
08:50    Sergio Garcia (Spa),    Ignacio Garrido (Spa)
09:00    Jamie Donaldson (Wal),    Raphael Jacquelin (Fra)
09:15    Noh Seung-yul (Kor),    Thongchai Jaidee (Thai)
09:25    YE Yang (Kor),    Peter Lawrie (Ire)
09:35    Gareth Maybin (NI),    Damien McGrane (Ire)
09:45    Alejandro Canizares (Spa),    Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Spa)
09:55    Simon Dyson (Eng),    Darren Clarke (NI)
10:05    David Horsey (Eng),    Matteo Manassero (Ita)
10:15    Joost Luiten (Ned),    Gregory Havret (Fra)
10:25    Stephen Gallacher (Sco),    Simon Khan (Eng)
10:35    Retief Goosen (Rsa),    Danny Willett (Eng)
10:45    Anders Hansen (Den),    Robert Karlsson (Swe)
11:00    Fredrik Andersson Hed (Swe),    Richard Green (Aus)
11:10    Padraig Harrington (Ire),    Rhys Davies (Wal)
11:20    Peter Hanson (Swe),    Alvaro Quiros (Spa)
11:30    Ross Fisher (Eng),    Luke Donald (Eng)
11:40    Rory McIlroy (NI),    Paul Casey (Eng)
11:50    Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa),    Edoardo Molinari (Ita)
12:00    Charl Schwartzel (Rsa),    Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa)
12:10    Ernie Els (Rsa),    Ian Poulter (Eng)
12:20    Francesco Molinari (Ita),    Lee Westwood (Eng)
12:30    Graeme McDowell (NI),    Martin Kaymer (Ger)