I’m never quite sure what to make of the Race To Dubai. Golfers certainly don’t target becoming European Number One at the start of any particular season. Even when we get down to the business end of a campaign, it’s rare to see a world-ranked top 10 golfer change their schedule to play in additional tournaments to boost their chances of ending the term as the continent’s best performer.
Rose, second in the RTD standings (256,737 points behind current leader Tommy Fleetwood), won both the lucrative HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open but didn’t bother playing in last week’s Nedbank Golf Championship. Garcia, meanwhile, hasn’t teed it up since winning the Andalucia Masters, skipping three tournaments since – hardly the mindset of a player desperate to put some pressure on Fleetwood.
The Spaniard now needs to win at Jumeirah Golf Estates this week
The Spaniard now needs to win at Jumeirah Golf Estates this week, coupled with Fleetwood finishing outside of the top 20 and Rose finishing worse than solo fourth, to top the money list. The permutations for Rose to overhaul Fleetwood are slightly more complex, but a solo second place finish would be enough as long as the current leader does not win.
In my mind, then, I hope Fleetwood secures the title – and I think he will. The likeable Lancastrian has played in the last three events and scrapped for every euro. After his 10th place finish in South Africa on Sunday, he said: “Today when I knew I couldn’t win, I played the last few holes because you know every shot is going to count towards the end of the year”.
All the talk of a tournament within a tournament will drift away on the gulf sands if neither Rose nor Garcia start well on Thursday. While the Englishman has been here before – he was crowned European number one in 2007 by winning the final event of the season – I don’t think we’ll see such a dramatic finish this time around. If Rose doesn’t claim a top-five spot and Garcia fails win, Fleetwood will be crowned European Number One.
No Need To Pray For Amazing Grace
Do I think any of the three protagonists will win the 48th event of a gruelling schedule that has trekked across five continents? Well, Rose is the 13/2 favourite and, along with his two recent victories, can boast two runners-up spots at this week’s venue. Garcia, a 12/1 shot, has never rewarded even each-way backers at the monster 7,706-yard layout, while Fleetwood, offered at 22/1, is another who has never really prospered at the Gulf track.
So, let that trio squabble for seasonal honours and instead look to Brandon Grace, Tyrrell Hatton and Rafael Cabrera Bello to come good on the week.
Grace, a 12/1 chance, was brilliant in overhauling Scott Jamieson at Sun City on Sunday, hitting all 18 greens in regulation in a bogey-free last round 66. Long off the tee, the South African was third at Jumeirah Golf Estates two years ago, and relishes playing in tournaments in the United Arab Emirates (five top tens’ in his last 12 visits).
Hatton has finally realised his potential this season with brilliant wins in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Italian Open (now part of the Rolex Series). Sure, he is still a fiery character on the fairways, but he has learned to embrace his own idiosyncrasies. He knows what he is like, but more importantly, it doesn’t affect his play like it used to. Second in this event 12 months ago, Hatton trades at 14/1, and looks serious each-way value.
Finally, at 30/1, Cabrera Bello gets a place in the staking plan – and this is a tournament that owes him. The smooth-swinging Spaniard led going into the final round in 2014, but ran into an unstoppable Henrik Stenson and slipped to ninth. He also posted a stunning Saturday 63 last year, proving he can play the course. Three top dozen efforts in his last four outings suggest his game is in good enough nick to challenge again.