DP World Tour Championship Preview & Picks
AND so it all comes down to this. After a season that began almost 12 months ago, Europe’s elite gather to compete in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, at the end of which the Race to Dubai winner will finally be crowned.
It has been another extraordinary season, with Ireland’s Shane Lowry winning The Open Championship after four magnificent days at Royal Portrush, Tommy Fleetwood finishing runner-up in the same event, a spectacular return to form and fitness for Bernd Wiesberger, an incredible victory for a rejuvenated Danny Willett at the BMW PGA Championship, a return to the winner’s enclosure for Sergio Garcia, a host of first-time winners and a thrilling battle for rookie of the year between Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and Kurt Kitayama that will right down to the wire.
With a prize fund of $8m up for grabs, a first prize of $3m and a bucketload of ranking points, this is a serious tournament for the top 50 players in the Race to Dubai.
It all gets underway with the finale to the 2019 Hero Challenge Series, featuring Fleetwood, Willett, Lowry, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Erik Van Royen. The night-golf spectacle began at Liverpool’s Princes Docks when Fleetwood triumphed, prior to hosting the Betfred British Masters. In the next stop, Matthew Fitzpatrick secured his maiden Hero Challenge victory ahead of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open. Stenson claimed the Hero Challenge title last year in Dubai after overcoming Lee Westwood in an enthralling finale. The two-time Race to Dubai Champion is looking forward to returning to the glamorous venue on Palm Jumeirah, while Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, will also be bidding for more Hero Challenge glory after his triumph in Scotland two years ago.
They will be joined by Willett, the 2018 DP World Tour Champion, who will be looking for a good start to the week before beginning his title defence at Jumeirah Golf Estates. The Englishman goes into this year’s event after his second Rolex Series victory at the BMW PGA Championship in September. Open Champion Lowry, who captured the Claret Jug in jubilant scenes at Royal Portrush this July, will make his first Hero Challenge appearance since the inaugural edition of the contest at The Grove back in 2016. Cabrera Bello will also return to action in the fast and fun contest after his previous Hero Challenge outing at Edinburgh Castle in 2018.
Fleetwood will arrive in Dubai on a high after his victory in the Nedbank Challenge at Sun City. He has had an incredible season, going through the entire year on both the European Tour and PGA Tour without missing a single cut. Prior to Sun City, where he collected a first prize of $2.5m, the highlight of his year came at Royal Portrush, where he finished runner-up top Lowry at The Open, but without seriously threatening the Irishman. Fleetwood is one of the most popular players in the world. At a time when so many top tour pros give the impression that they would rather be anywhere else, Fleetwood obviously enjoys what he does for a living - and lets the fans know it. This is a big week, and he would love to finish off the European Tour season with another victory, which would see him top the Race to Dubai for the second time in three years.
He will have some task on his hands, however, as he takes on Europe’s elite. Rory McIlroy will start the week as a red-hot favourite as he goes for his fifth worldwide victory of 2019. He may not have added to his total of four majors but he has played some wonderful golf and now has his eyes set on overtaking Brooks Koepka at the top of the world rankings. With everything that has been said and written about his inability to land that fifth major, it is easy to forget just what a wonderful golfer McIlroy is.
He has just become the youngest player to spend 500 weeks inside the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. McIlroy accomplished the feat at 30 years, 6 months, 8 days old, breaking a mark previously held by Tiger Woods, who needed four months more to reach the same milestone. “The first [and maybe last] thing I’ve ever beaten Tiger at,” McIlroy wrote on Instagram.
He first broke into the top 10 in 2009, after a third-place finish at this tournament. Three years later he topped the rankings for the first time after winning the Honda Classic. In doing so, he became the second-youngest player to reach No. 1 - behind Woods. McIlroy has been setting records all his life. At 16, he was the youngest golfer to win the West of Ireland and Irish Amateur Close Championship in 2005. In 2007, shortly after turning professional, McIlroy finished third at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The result moved him from 880th to 308th in the world. It also helped earned him enough money to become the youngest and quickest affiliate member to secure his European Tour card, in just two events.
Three years later, McIlroy became the youngest winner of the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship at 20 years, 11 months, 28 days (his closing 16-under 128 total was also the lowest final 36-hole total in tournament history). The following season, at 22 years, 1 month and 15 days, he became the youngest winner of the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.
And his stay in the top 10 doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon, either. With four wins, two runner-up finishes, a third and 11 other top-10 finishes in 2019, he’s currently ranked No. 2 in the world. The last time McIlroy was ranked outside the top 10? The spring of 2018, following a missed cut at the Valspar Championship, which dropped him to 13th in the world. He went on to win at Bay Hill in his next start.
So yes, he is the man to beat in Dubai, where he has won twice before. If anybody is going to challenge any of McIlroy’s records it could well be Jon Rahm, who won here two years ago. The Spaniard is a hugely impressive specimen. He hits the ball a mile, is a wonderful iron player and has the touch of an angel on and around the greens. He has enjoyed another wonderful year and arrives in Dubai knowing that another victory will give him a very good chance of winning the Race to Dubai for the first time.
The event was won in 2011 by Alvaro Quiros, in 2012 and 2015 by McIlroy, in 2013 and 2014 by Henrik Stenson, in 2016 by Matthew Fitzpatrick, in 2017 by Jon Rahm and last year by Willett.
Rory McIlroy. Who else?
Jon Rahm. Could live to regret not playing at Sun City
Tommy Fleetwood. On a real high
Rory McIlroy. On a mission to overtake Brooks Koepka at the top of the world rankings
Jon Rahm. Seems to contend every time he plays
Tommy Fleetwood. Would love to win the Race to Dubai again
Louis Oosthuizen. Determined to make up for final-round collapse at Sun City
Bernd Wiesberger. Has had an incredible year
Patrick Reed. Ferocious competitor
Matthew Fitzpatrick. Desperate for a win
Henrik Stenson. Still a great ball striker
Danny Willett. Back where he belongs
Thomas Pieters. Still hugely underrated
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