Henrik Stesnon leads the current standings for the Race to Dubai on the European Tour and he is odds on to maintain that position and become the first player to win that title and its equivalent, the FedEx Cup, on the US PGA Tour. Bernd Wiesberger has the best overall profile of the entire field and Ross Fisher can continue to get his career back on track by making the payout places in the BMW Masters this week.
The top 60 players and ties qualify for the season finale in three weeks, the DP World Tour Championship. We are now embarking on the Final Series which comprises four post season tournaments and culminates in a climax in Dubai in the middle of next month. Players are also looking to secure their playing privileges for next season with the best 110 certain of keeping their card for 2014.
One of the objectives of the Final Series is to attract the best European players to appear more often on their home Tour. There are now so many Europeans in the top 50 in the world rankings that fields are generally moderate. That standing gets a player into the majors and World Golf Championship events and assured of invitations to regular PGA Tour events if they so wish.
All 24 players who qualified or were selected to play in the Ryder Cup last year were in the top 50 in the rankings when the matches were played in Chicago in September. The lure of huge prize funds has attracted Europe’s best to the States where the Tour has not suffered from an economic downturn. Conversely, in the Europe the euro-zone crisis has led to tournaments being cancelled in key territories like Spain, Germany and Italy.
In the context of the European Tour there is a massive amount of prize money available over the nest four weeks. It is indicative of the state of economy in the continent that none of the four events are being played in Northern Europe. The penultimate event is being played in Turkey and sponsored by the national airline but the other three events are being played in Asia.
The Race to Dubai is a season-long concept comprising 46 tournaments in 25 countries on all five continents. The winner receives a prestigious trophy named in honour of the only player to win the Open Championship six times, Harry Vardon, a seven year European Tour exemption and Catagory 1 Status which is only also awarded to major champions.
It is another indication of the local economy that only one Race to Dubai qualifying tournament was played in England during the current season. The BMW Championship is played every year at Wentworth in Surrey and English courses generally stage the Open Championship every other year but not in 2013. There will be two tournaments in England next year at the Open is being played at Royal Liverpool for the first time since 2006.
At number four in the current standings Stenson is the highest world ranked player in the field. He is now at a career high after dropping out of the top 200 following a dip in form. He lost several million pounds in a failed business venture but recouped that and more when winning the FedEx cup and ten million dollar bonus. His above average length off the tee and greens in regulation aptitude make him a leading contender this week.
Rory McIlroy is the only other player from the top 10 in the world rakings competing in China this week. The structure of the rankings system means he could drop out of the top 10 before the end of the year. He has not won anywhere around the world this season and he wasn’t able to win a low grade event in Korea last week. However, he will be more acclimatised to playing conditions than most of the rest of the field.
Just a year ago McIlroy was the world’s number one on the back of a season in which he won his second major. At aged 23 he seemed to have all he would wish for, both on and off the course. He now arrives in China apparently no longer with his girlfriend of two years, tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, and still not totally comfortable with his new clubs.
McIlroy sighned with Nike to use their equipment in a lucrative deal at the start of the year. He has not blamed the clubs in public but clearly something is amiss when McIlory plays. Moderate form leads to a lack of confidence and feel for the clubs in his hand. Matters are not helped by an ongoing dispute with his management company.
At the Open Championship in July McIlroy admitted he was not in a good place mentally. There have been some signs of a recovery but overall this has been a poor season. He was not even amongst the top 30 players who qualified for the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour. Golfers can play themselves back into form but it might be best for McIlroy to take a three month sabbatical to assess his personal and professional life and come back more focused for the start of 2014.
Lee Westwood is 18th in the current Race to Dubai standings and is assured of a place in the Tour World Championship. In assessing the season to date Westwood will also look back with some displeasure. Another year has gone by without him winning a major. He usually puts a positive spin on his efforts in the four biggest events of the year but he looked totally disconsolate after the final round of the PGA Championship in August when he again came up short.
Westwood got involved in an ill advised spat on Twitter after his latest disappointment in a major. He pointed out to the trolls how much money he has made playing golf but then withdrew his comments the next morning when his head was more clear. Westwood led the Open by two shots ahead of the final round but did nothing wrong on the Sunday, except not holing as many crucial birdie putts as Phil Mickelson down the stretch.
Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer are also in the mix this week, as part of a field that comprises eight players from Europe’s most recent Ryder Cup winning team. Of those Nicolas Colsaerts looks least suited to playing conditions as the others generality excel when there is a premium on accuracy over distance. The host course in China is less than 7000 yards in length which means sound approach play will be more important than long driving.
The course attributes at Lake Malaren in Shanghai bring Ross Fisher and Bernd Weinberger into contention. Fisher played in the 2010 Ryder Cup and then moved to the States to further his career and play for more money. It was perhaps too early in his life to make the move and he is now back in Europe to rebuild his career. His last win was achieved in the Irish Open of 2010 and his overall tally is now at four titles but he has also lost in three play-offs.
Fisher has built up a solid bank of current form, which includes losing in a play-off in the Perth International last week. The event was co-sanctioned by the Australasian and European Tour but was little better than Challenge Tour in standard. Fisher faces much better opposition this week but his game is in good order and he has travelled fewer miles than most of the rest of the field.
Weinberger won a low grade event in Asia this season. However, he still has a year of a two season exemption in hand which means he can plan his schedule carefully and maximise his chances of breaking into the lucrative top 50 in the world rankings. Weinberger is another player with a solid bank of current form in recent weeks and he is on a run of three cut making events in which he has finished no worse than six shots off the pace.
The Austrian player is the only competitor in the field in the top 30 for driving distance, greens in regulation and putting when hitting the greens in the correct number of shots. He has wasted several solid winning opportunities this year but is still a proven title holder who is playing his best golf. In winning this week Weinberger would enter the Ryder Cup picture and set himself up to contend for the massive prize fund during the rest of the Final Series.
There is a large pot to play for and a significant number of Ryder Cup points on the table this week. Fisher and Weinberger have profiles to contend but maybe ultimately not the quality to beat a high class field. That is not an issue with Stenson and given a reproduction of his most recent form is the man to beat in China at the start of the Final Series where a top five finish will strengthen his position in the Race to Dubai standings.