One of the big golfing stories of the year has been the bromance involving Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood. However, it should be purely business in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship because they are the only players who can win the Race to Dubai. Fleetwood will win the title for the second successive year if he wins the finale and Molinari finishes outside the top five or is tied fifth with more than one player. It would be fitting if the two great mates went head-to-head for the tournament on Sunday and Open champion Molinari won the Race to Dubai. However, two visitors from the US PGA Tour could spoil that perfect end to the European Tour season.
Fleetwood is at a career high of number 10 in the world rankings and it’s been another fine season. He is over one million points behind his mate from Italy in the standings and only a win this week would suffice. In any case he only wins the Race to Dubai again if Molinari finishes sixth or worse. Fleetwood does not have outstanding course form at the host Jumeirah Golf Estates so it would be a great achievement to win the Tour Championship to clinch the Race to Dubai again. Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson are the only multiple winners of the European Tour Order of Merit in its current format. Lee Westwood won the title in 2009.
The UAE course measures 7,675 yards and has a par of 72. The fairways are generally wide but there are water hazards on six holes and large fairway bunkers. The greens are large and undulating. The course puts a premium on distance over accuracy but some measure of control is required on the driving holes due to the size and location of the hazards. Driving will be a key skill and McIlroy is one of the best drivers in the world but not in great form. The winner of the Nedbank Challenge last week, Westwood, has a good skills profile but mental letdown could be an issue. Sergio Garcia has the attributes for good scoring in Dubai. The defending champion is Jon Rahm.
The event in Dubai carries a huge bonus fund depending on finishing positions in the Race. US tour players Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele are fourth and fifth in the standings so are playing for a share of that pot. Reed won the Masters Tournament on the Augusta National course that favours long hitters who can find the right positions on the undulating greens. Schauffele was tied second behind Molinari in the Open at Carnoustie and won the Tour Championship on a course like Jumeirah last year. On balance Reed has the better chance of being the first US player to win the event.
At the end of a season in which Molinari and Fleetwood won all four matches as a pair in the Ryder Cup it is fitting that they are the only two players who can win the Race to Dubai. Four consecutive top 10s have kept Fleetwood just in the hunt while Molinari has had a dip in form at the end of a year in which he has won tournaments on the two main tours. Fleetwood would love to reel in one of his closest friends but he would be happy for Molinari if the leader was not overhauled. It’s a big ask for Fleetwood to win this week with so much on the line and he could come up short.
Reed has the game for the track and is a major champion this year. Sixty players have qualified for the tournament but there is no cut and everyone wins a cheque. Molinari, Westwood and Martin Kaymer have played in every edition but the Masters champion can prevail which means Molinari wins the Race to Dubai.