Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Rahm's rampage and Fleetwood's titanic turnaround: DP World Tour Championship talking points

After the European Tour season drew to a close on Sunday, John McAuley looks at the takeaways from the tournament in Dubai.

Jon Rahm, left, won the DP World Tour Championship on Sunday as Tommy Fleetwood, right, was crowned the Race to Dubai winner. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Jon Rahm, left, won the DP World Tour Championship on Sunday as Tommy Fleetwood, right, was crowned the Race to Dubai winner. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Rahm rampages on

A 2017 to remember was given the perfect sign-off. Having won on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, in his first full season as a professional, Jon Rahm burnished his reputation with another supreme performance. He kept his cool throughout Sunday at Jumeirah Golf Estates, when a number of more experienced competitors lost theirs.

Sensing victory, he made a clutch birdie on 16 and then a superb up-and-down on 17. He won by one. With it, he moved to world No 4. He turned 23 last week. Rahm is now the highest-ranked European in the game, and seems set to battle Americans Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas for the top spot next year.

In Dubai, Rahm carried himself like a man who knows he is destined for greatness. “Very, very special,” he said of the win. It is a rather apt description of Rahm himself.

Fleetwood’s titanic turnaround

Tommy Fleetwood. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Tommy Fleetwood. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Basking in the sheen of his Race to Dubai victory, Tommy Fleetwood detailed a much darker period in his golfing career. It was only 18 months previously, he said on Sunday, that he turned up at the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, “scared” of how he would perform. He even contemplated withdrawing.

Now, though, Fleetwood is the tour’s flagship player. His year began really with victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, before the Englishman added a Rolex-Series win in France. Granted, his tied-21st in Dubai was not how he would have liked to secure the European No 1 crown.

Much to his credit, Fleetwood conceded as much. But the way he fought back after a first-round 73 spoke volumes. That resolve has dragged Fleetwood from the low of 18 months ago to the high in Dubai. Now he must ensure it sustains.

Thorny event for Rose

Justin Rose. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Justin Rose. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

For much of the week, Justin Rose appeared the guy to beat. He came into the event with back-to-back victories, taking him close to Fleetwood as the Race to Dubai reached its conclusion.

What is more, Rose had previous at the DP World, finishing runner-up in 2012 and 2014. His putt on the 72nd hole in 2012 ranks as one of the tournament’s highlights. Underlining his class, Rose entered the final round boasting a one-shot lead, then birdied four of the first seven holes to suggest he was on for a Dubai double.

To almost everyone’s surprise, he stumbled on the back nine, with three bogeys in five holes. Cracks appeared in his cool facade. Eventually, Rose finished tied-4th, letting both prizes slip from his grasp. At 37, one of Europe’s leading lights has one major championship and one Order of Merit. Given his talent, it feels like he should have more.

Ryder Cup ruck is on

Sergio Garcia. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Sergio Garcia. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

Last week, a reputable writer for a reputable golf publication in America penned a piece he labelled an obituary for the Ryder Cup. It argued that, such is the current strength of American golf, the United States is destined for a decade of utter domination. It opened with the line “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet”.

Best telling that to Europe, then. On the 18th green on Sunday, Rahm and Fleetwood posed alongside freshly acquired hardware, two pretty tangible counterarguments to the aforementioned article. Rose finished in the top four, alongside Sergio Garcia. England’s Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick were one and two shots further back.

What is more, the DP World was missing Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson, the injured pair who have won four of the six previous tournaments. More will surely play their way into the reckoning come France next September. Maybe that feature was a tad premature.

Set-up for a spectacle

The 18th green of the Earth course. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
The 18th green of the Earth course. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

On Saturday, as birdies and eagles lit up the cards, former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley took to social media to spark a debate. “Should the order of merit be determined by pretty much one dimensional, front-footed golf or should it be determined by more ebb/flow of birdies, bogies & doubles?” he tweeted. “This course could be set up so much tougher.”

Eddie Pepperell, one of the most perceptive players on tour, complained after his third-round 66 that the Earth course was too easy. The tees were pushed up, the pins made more accessible. Only three of the 60 players were over par for the round. Hatton nearly broke the course record.

However, Fleetwood attributed the low scoring to simply “amazing” golf. Thomas Bjorn, the current European Ryder Cup captain, said it was “really fun to watch”. To be fair, that’s exactly what it was. With a number of players in the hunt come Sunday, it felt justified.