x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Last chance for McDowell to set up finale

The Irishman McDowell needs a strong result in Hong Kong to put pressure on Kaymer in Race to Dubai.

The winner of the Race to Dubai is between Graeme McDowell, kneeling, and Martin Kaymer. The former needs to win the Hong Kong Open to substantially close the gap on Kaymer.
The winner of the Race to Dubai is between Graeme McDowell, kneeling, and Martin Kaymer. The former needs to win the Hong Kong Open to substantially close the gap on Kaymer.

Graeme McDowell has twice this year proved himself to be the man for the really big occasion. Golf enthusiasts here in the UAE are hoping he delivers the goods again this weekend to ensure an exciting finale to the European Tour season.

The genial Northern Irishman refused to buckle coming down the final stretch of the US Open at Pebble Beach in June when his first major championship was within reach. Then last month his admirable composure as anchor man pushed Europe over the finishing line in the Ryder Cup.

Today, McDowell has nearly all of those who have helped set up the Race to Dubai - the US$7.5m (Dh27.5m) Dubai World Championship (DWC) - rooting for him on as he sets out for what he hopes will be the fourth victory of his most productive season.

With due respect to Martin Kaymer, twice a winner of the Abu Dhabi Championship, it would be ideal if McDowell hunted him down over the next four days.

An eighth career title for McDowell in the Hong Kong Open would take him to within €67,000 (Dh331,000) of Kaymer, the Race leader who has chosen to miss the Fanling tournament before seeking to complete his Order of Merit triumph on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates next week.

Such a scenario in favour of McDowell would keep the pot boiling in the DWC as it was last year when another Ulsterman, Rory McIlroy, led the Race approaching the final hurdle only to be caught and passed by an inspired Lee Westwood.

McIlroy sees a similar situation developing this year and has said on the record that he expects McDowell to overhaul Kaymer, who has also had a strong year. He won his first major, the US PGA championship, with two more lucrative titles in quick succession.

While the battle for the big prize of $1.5m for the Race winner is the key side issue, there are bound to take place on other parts of the European Tour's money list.

The top 15 players on that list at the end of the DWC will share out a bonus pool of $7.5m. McIlroy is currently set for a slice of that as he stands in 13th place, but he still requires some solid displays this week and next to be certain.

Then there is the fight just to be a part of the DWC which is open to the top 60 eligible players on the earnings ladder.

Ross McGowan, who was second to Westwood on the Earth Course 12 months ago, will not be coming back unless he shines in Hong Kong. The 27-year-old is in 74th place and needs a top-two finish to have any hope of qualifying.

Also in the balance this weekend is the Asian Tour's Order of Merit which is within the reach of the Noh Seung-yul, the young Korean.

He leads Australia's Marcus Fraser by $243,000 but effectively this will be his last opportunity to secure No 1 status because he will undergo eye surgery next month.

It might be a testing quiz question to name the man at the top of the US PGA Tour's money list. He is Matt Kuchar, who like many of the leading Americans over the last year, have profited handsomely from the decline of Tiger Woods.

Woods's failure to win a tournament for the first time since his first full year on the Tour in 1997 - he has one last chance in his own Chevron World Challenge which he has won four times previously - has also enabled the Jim Furyk to earn a deserved piece of the limelight.

Furyk has been a model professional for the last decade and his nomination as Tour player of the Year - an accolade that has been Tiger's on nine of the last 12 occasions - is a fitting tribute.