DP World Tour Championship
Henrik Stenson looks well placed to win the Race to Dubai but there are still permutations that could see one of eight other players end the season with most ranking points ahead of the finale at the DP Tour Championship in Dubai. Rory McIlroy is the market leader to win the tournament and has a favourite’s chance but Martin Kaymer and Bernd Wiesberger also have decent profiles to win in Dubai.
Stenson is odds on to win the Race and feasibly could finish last in a limited field of 60 players and still not be overhauled in the standings. If he held on to his lead Stenson would then become the first player to win the FedEx Cup on the US PGA Tour and the Race to Dubai. Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy have won both money lists in the same year but not both play-off series on the respective Tours.
The Swede reached a high of number four in the rankings in 2009, a year in which he won the Players Championship. That tournament is known as the fifth major due to the quality of the field. Some rather insular US Tour pros believe it is the premier individual event in world golf but clearly it is not as the Open Championship will always be the most prestigious.
When Stenson beat the best field of the year at Sawgrass four years ago he looked destined to become a major champion and the potential to be the best player in the world. However, a severe dip in form was made worse by a failed business venture that cost Stenson several million dollars. He won that back and more in the FedEx Cup and he is now at a career best ranking of number three in the world.
The only thing missing on Stenson’s CV is a major championship. He made the payout places in the Open and PGA Championship this year and did nothing wrong when in contention in the final rounds. Finding a divot on a crucial hole on the back nine of the PGA Championship cost him at least one shot and he eventually finished three shots behind the winner Jason Dufner.
It appears that mental letdown has affected Stenson during the play-off series on the European Tour. He has played in each of the three counting events before the World Tour Championship and his finishing positions have been 34-31-7. It will be a case of defending his lead this week but several other players will be ready to take advantage if Stenson does not play well enough to maintain his position in the standings.
The bookmakers believe Justin Rose is the most likely player to overtake Stenson in the final point’s table. If Stenson finishes last Rose will have to make the top five places to win the Race to Dubai. However, the US Open champion will win the Race if he finishes first this week regardless of the number of points Stenson picks up in Dubai. Only Rose, Stenson and Graeme McDowell can control their own destiny as a win this week would clinch the title.
Ever since finishing tied fourth as a 17 year old amateur in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Rose has been seen as a potential major champion. He turned professional straight after the Open but then missed the cut in his first 21 events in the paid ranks. With the support of his sadly departed father he rebuilt his career and 15 years later he won his first major.
Rose’s progress through the rankings began with solid efforts on the European Tour, followed by wins which he then replicated on the PGA Tour. He proved himself at the highest level by winning a World Golf Championship event. He then began to contend in majors and made the final step to the pinnacle of the game by winning the US Open in June.
The DP World Tour Championship was first played in 2009. The Jumeriah Golf Estates course in Dubai has been the host over the last four years. At over 7600 yards the course is above average in length even by modern standards. There will be a premium on distance over accuracy off the tee but finding the greens in the correct number of shots and then putting well will also be key skills.
Wiseberger is one of just two players in the field in the top 40 for driving distance, greens in regulation and GIR putting. Winning may be beyond him at this level but he has the attributes to make the payout places. However, Victor Dubuisson took his game to a new level by beating a field including Tiger Woods in the Turkish Airlines Open and Wiesberger could do something similar this week.
If he had not won last week Dubuisson would have been on the short list for Dubai as he is the other player in the top 40 for each of the three key skills. It’s difficult to win back-to-back at any level and mental letdown is a danger for Dubuisson. His prospects this week depend on his reaction to that lucrative week in Turkey and he may feel with a two year exemption secured his job is done for this season. However, a bizarre combination of results could even see the French player win the Race to Dubai but he is as big as 250/1 for that to occur.
Ian Poulter is the third favourite for the Race to Dubai. If he wins the DP Tour Championship Stenson needs to finish second to win the Race to Dubai. To have any chance of overtaking Stenson Poulter needs to be third or better. If Poulter and Stenson are second and third the latter wins the Race but if Poulter ends the week one place lower 38th place will be sufficient for Stenson to stay at the top of the standings.
McIlroy and Kaymer cannot win the Race to Dubai this year even if Stenson finishes last. It seems that at long last McIlroy is playing near his best after a season to be forgotten and an ‘annus horribils’. He changed his clubs at the start of the year after signing a lucrative deal with Nike to use their equipment. Low points include admitting his mental fragility after the first round of the Open and walking off the course midway through his round in a regular PGA Tour event.
As a high profile and wealthy sportsman McIlroy‘s personal life will intrigue some people. Woods proved that what happens away from the course can affect your reputation and earning power. Some newspapers seem more interested in speculation about McIlroy’s relationship with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, than his efforts on the course. I have no idea if they are still together but since the rumoured split Mcilroy’s scores have improved.
The Irish youngster began the season as the PGA Champion and number one in the world. His play was so consistently moderate that he wasn’t among the 30 players who qualified for the Tour Championship. Its also only during the play-off series that he has secured his place in Dubai. It would be a good end to a disappointing season if McIlroy won this work on a course suited to his game and backed by one of his main sponsors.
Kaymer is another former PGA champion and world number one. Whatever he faces in golf nothing will compare with the pressure of having to hole the putt that secured the Ryder Cup for Europe in the matches last September. Kaymer has also had a dip in the form after reaching the very top of the game but in the last six weeks looks almost back to his best.
The German combines solid course and current form and has the temperament to play well when the financial rewards for decent scoring are huge. In addition to being a major champion he has won the World Golf Championship level and has a store of confidence gained from his crucial putt in the Ryder Cup. Kaymer is another player that scores well for both driving distance and finding the greens in the correct number of shots.
Jamie Donaldson, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Thongchai Jaidee and Richard Sterne can also win the Race to Dubai, but they are all dependent on other scores. McDowell can finish third and still overhaul Stenson if that player wins the minimum number of ranking points on offer this week. He is the only player to win regular events in both main Tours this year but his game is more about accuracy than distance.
It’s clear there are many ifs, buts and maybes this week. However, the simple truth is that Stenson, Rose or McDowell will be Race to Dubai champion if they win this week regardless of what anyone else does. They are in a strong position as it’s in their own hands. However, in three contenders named McIlroy, Kaymer and Wiesberger we have players who cannot win the Race to Dubai but have strong claims to be DP Tour champion.