Season’s run-in includes big money events on way to Dubai
Five Irish players competing in the BMW Masters in Shanghai
Rory McIlroy is looking to make up ground in the coming weeks and make the field for the season-ending finale in Dubai .
Who, in truth, could have envisaged this? Money, for sure, is talking; and the fact that the PGA European Tour’s so-called “Final Series” kick-starts this week with the BMW Masters in Lake Malaren, Shanghai – the first of two back-to-back events in the Chinese metropolis – with a further stop-off in Turkey before the climax in Dubai is indicative of an ever-evolving itinerary that moves, geographically at least, from the tour’s roots.
It is what it is, however, and the BMW Masters starts a run of big money tournaments that will also take in next week’s WGC-HSBC Champions, the following week’s Turkish Airlines Open and, finally, the DP World championship to conclude the season’s Race to Dubai. Apart from substantial purses in the coming weeks ranging from €5 million to €6.2 million, the strength of the fields have been boosted by a tour criteria that anyone competing in the season’s finale in Dubai must have played in at least two of the other three “Final Series” tournaments.
There are five Irish players competing in the BMW Masters in Shanghai, although only two of them – Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry – are currently assured of a place in the field in Dubai which is confined to the top-60 off the moneylist.
As things stand, Rory McIlroy (63rd) and Pádraig Harrington (72nd) are marginally outside those qualifying but should make up ground this week given that it is a limited-field with no cut and therefore guaranteed prizemoney. The amount they add to their positions in the R2D, of course, will be determined by finishing positions.
Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, currently 127th on the Race to Dubai standings, is also playing this week on a sponsor’s invite.
McIlroy moved on to Lake Malaren – where he was runner-up to Peter Hanson last year – on the back of a runner-up finish in the Korean Open last week. The 24-year-old Northern Irishman pointed to his putter as his undoing in Korea. “I hit the ball really well off the tee and my iron play was very solid as well. I feel like my game is in good shape going into the next few weeks, and that’s a good thing,” he said.
Tiger Woods, the world number one, who will be competing in a head-to-head duel with McIlroy in China next Monday, has backed his Nike stable-mate to return to his best. “Give him a little bit more time. I think he is starting to put the pieces together. He showed some really good signs towards the end of the season that the things he’s working on are starting to come together,” said Woods, speaking in a teleconference promoting the World Challenge which he hosts annually at Sherwood in December.
McIlroy’s upcoming schedule will see him play twice in China – the BMW Masters and the WGC-HSBC, neither of which have cuts – before missing out on Turkey and then finishing off the European Tour campaign in Dubai. After that, McIlroy will play in the Australian Open and finish off his year by playing in Tiger’s event, the World Challenge, an 18-man limited field event.
Harrington has fallen to 105th in the latest world rankings but his place in the field in Lake Malaren was booked when he was inside that top-100 at the cut-off point at the end of September. The Dubliner – unless he wins this week – will miss out on next week’s HSBC but will be playing in the Turkish Airlines Open, after which he should have moved inside the top-60 on the money list to book his ticket to Dubai.
Lowry resumes tournament play, having narrowly missed the cut in his defence of the Portugal Masters a fortnight ago, for a run-in that will also see him play in Turkey and Dubai before moving on to represent Ireland with Graeme McDowell in the World Cup in Australia.
Returns to action
After his wedding last month, McDowell returns to the circuit for a run that takes in the two events in China – the BMW Masters and the HSBC Champions – before taking a week off and then playing in the DP World in Dubai, the World Cup and finally the World Challenge.
Sweden’s Peter Hanson defends his crown in Lake Malaren, having held off McIlroy to win a year ago. “To go up against Rory when he was world number one and playing the bext golf in the world at that time was something you don’t get the chance to do that often, and to be able to sneak ahead of him to take the title was awesome,” recalled Hanson.