This week sees the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. Henrik Stenson of Sweden is the defending champion over Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Earth Course.
Despite not playing last week in Turkey, Rory McIlroy has been confirmed as winner of the 2014 Race to Dubai. The lead he established through his superb performances over the summer, proved to be unassailable. McIlroy makes a return to competitive action this week in an event where he has tasted victory, back in 2012.
Although Rory has already been crowned European Tour Number 1, there’s still a great deal to play for in Dubai. There’s a sizeable purse of $8 million on offer, with $1,300,000 going to the winner. The top-60 on the Race to Dubai standings will tee it up at Jumeirah Estates and every man on the start sheet could still secure a share of the 2014 European Tour bonus pool.
Four things to watch for at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai this week:
1 - Rory McIlroy. He’s strong favourite to win this event, but he hasn’t played on the European Tour since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in St Andrews six weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how sharp the World Number 1’s game is coming into this tournament, and how focussed he is to secure a second DP World Tour Championship title. The Race to Dubai is already sewn-up, and he’s won two Majors, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the Ryder Cup this year. Will he have the necessary motivation to win here? Although he came tied second in the Dunhill Links, McIlroy didn’t exactly have his game face on. He was clearly enjoying playing with his dad in the pro-am format, and didn’t look overly bothered to come up a stroke short of a tie with Oliver Wilson.
Will McIlroy come out this week and display the pure desire to win that we used to see from Tiger in his prime?
2 - The battle for the bonus pool. The top-15 on the Race to Dubai standings after this event will share a $5 million bonus pool, although Rory has already bagged the top prize of $1,250,000. Defending champion Henrik Stenson (above) is currently in second spot on the rankings, but he’s less than 100,000 points ahead of Welshman Jamie Donaldson in third. The next 13 players are all within 1,000,000 points of Stenson. With 1,666,660 points going to the winner this week, any player down to England’s Andy Sullivan in 31st on the standings could, mathematically, still finish as runner-up in the Race to Dubai. And, anybody teeing it up this week could still move into the top-15.
3 - Ian Poulter. The Englishman is on great form and will be desperate to bounce back from the disappointment of narrowly missing out on victory last week in Turkey. Poulter had a short putt on the final green to force a playoff with Brooks Koepka of the USA but watched it drift past the left edge of the cup. He’s one of the most determined players in world golf and this is an event where he’s enjoyed success before – he was second to Stenson here last year.
4 – The course. The Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates is a Greg Norman design and one of the most immaculately presented layouts the Tour visits all season. Drawing influence from the great parkland courses of Europe and North America, the layout features sprawling white bunkers, lakes and creeks, plus an abundance of indigenous flora. It’s something of a brute at almost 7,700 yards and certainly a layout that should favour the power players.
There’s a great finish that adds to the excitement. The 15th is a short yet strategically demanding par 4, then comes a tough and long par-4 where water lurks right, the 17th is an exciting par 3 where the players fire to an island green, and the last is a testing par-5 of over 600 yards (above) with a creek winding down the fairway’s entire length. For drive, second and perhaps third the player must make a conscious choice about which side of the hazard they wish to aim for.