x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Real tough test is on the cards at the DWC

No matter if someone tears up the Earth Course again this year, The European Tour organisers believe it is a worthy venue.

The Earth Course, the venue for the US$7.5 million (Dh27.5m) Dubai World Championship (DWC), came under attack when it made its debut on the European Tour a year ago as the final leg to the Race to Dubai.

Several players and caddies implied that the creation by Greg Norman at Jumeirah Golf Estates did not provide a tough enough test for 60 of the world's top golfers. Those criticisms received maximum exposure in certain media outlets.

Not everyone jumped on that bandwagon, however, and instead took the view that Lee Westwood made it look easy by producing golf of the highest calibre - golf that would have murdered the fiercest of courses.

That opinion was endorsed this week by leading administrators on the European Tour, who have taken over the promotion of their end-of-season flagship event.

Nick Tarratt, a Tour director who is based at the Dubai headquarters, maintained that Westwood's aggregate of 23-under par deserves the utmost credit, considering the circumstances.

The Englishman arrived in the UAE as second favourite for the Race to Dubai behind Rory McIlroy but rose to the occasion and carried away $2.75m for his four days of brilliance.

A more accurate reflection on Earth's degree of difficulty, Tour officials maintain, is the runner-up score of 17-under par posted by another Englishman, Ross McGowan, who finished two strokes ahead of the third-placed McIlroy.

That is the scoring region being aimed at as the build-up to the second DWC enters its final month. Efforts are being made to toughen up Earth by thickening the rough with a view to bringing the eventual winner's aggregate to between 12 and 15 under par.

It matters not if one of the 60 qualifiers blows that theory out of the water by producing another masterclass similar to Westwood's. The Tour hierarchy will still conclude that they have done all that needed to be done to make Earth a worthy venue.

An appealing late addition to what is developing into an elite line-up of 60 DWC qualifiers is Matteo Manassero who was rewarded for his achievement of becoming the Tour's youngest title winner last weekend with a promotion from 83rd to 44th on the money list.

Manassero, 17, in his first year as a professional, whose earnings were boosted by €333,000 (Dh1.69m) by his four-stroke victory in the Castello Masters in Valencia, is regarded as potentially as big a talent as McIlroy, who shed his amateur status at the same age and swiftly became one of the game's top attractions.

Indeed, the Italian is already drawing comparisons with Seve Ballesteros, who became one of the sport's greatest ambassadors.

Manassero, who lowered Danny Lee's title-winning age record of 18 years and six months by a full year, played down those tributes after his triumph, pointing out with maturity that Ballesteros was a unique character.

Nevertheless, Manassero, like McIlroy, can harbour realistic ambitions of rising to world No 1 status one day. That honour will be bestowed on Monday to the unassuming German Martin Kaymer if he follows up his run of three consecutive victories with a top-two finish in the Andalucia Valderrama Masters which begins today.

Those of us hoping to see the Race to Dubai being settled on the final Sunday in Dubai will be hoping that Kaymer for once comes unstuck.

A modest pay cheque for Kaymer would see Westwood claim the No 1 spot from Tiger Woods and, in my view, become a more fitting successor to the rehabilitating Woods. The argument against Westwood is that, unlike Kaymer, he is yet to win a major championship, but there can be no disputing that Westwood has been Europe's leading campaigner over the past 12 months and deserves the accolade.

It may be a brief reign for Westwood or Kaymer because Woods is believed to be back in the type of groove that made him unquestionably the leading figure in the modern game.

The 14-time major champion will be in contention to regain the spot he has held for 623 weeks when he reappears in the $7m HSBC Champions event in Shanghai next week.

Also there will be Phil Mickelson who, with the right combination of results, could also end a long and frustrating wait to top the rankings, while Westwood and Kaymer can also cement their respective positions before their Tour concludes with the Singapore and Hong Kong Opens en route to the Dubai climax.

 

wjohnson@thenational.ae