Collin Morikawa, at just 24 years of age, has been fast-tracked to honorary member status on the PGA European Tour as the current holder of the Claret Jug bids to become the first American to win its order of merit title, which concludes with the DP World Tour Championship on the Earth Course in Dubai.
In a year in which he claimed a second Major title, lifting the British Open at Royal St George's back in July and then played on the winning USA team at the Ryder Cup, Morikawa's acquirement of honorary membership – the 57th player to receive it and just the fifth American, joining Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Patrick Reed – acted as a nice gesture before the real business of getting the job done on the course in his quest to top the order of merit.
“This means everything. I’ve been a pro for two and a half years and the things I’ve been able to accomplish I’m very thankful for; but . . . the main focus (this week) is to try and win,” said Morikawa.
And although world number one Jon Rahm has opted to stay away, as has Viktor Hovland, from this limited field, no cut tournament that acts as the season's finale for the European Tour, Morikawa's task will be a tough one given the quality of the field that features no fewer than nine members of the defeated Europe Ryder Cup team .
Among that group are Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, the only two Irish players to progress to the Tour Championship. Lowry will be looking to end the season on a high after a disappointing fortnight on the PGA Tour, where he missed back-to-back cuts in Mexico and Houston.
McIlroy described his year's work as one of "exploration, learning" and is back working fulltime again with coach Michael Bannon.
It was after the Ryder Cup that McIlroy reappraised how he was playing the game (he won the CJ Cup in bounceback fashion) and explained: “I’m a very visual person. I visualise things, and I think I sort of got out of that mindset.
“I looked at ball, I looked at target, and I tried to make a swing to have the ball go to that target, but I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to do with the ball. Those two weeks after the Ryder Cup, basically every shot I hit, it’s very easy to on the range to hit a ball, hit another one, every ball I was very disciplined, I stood back, visualised what I wanted to do with that shot, tried to be what I’m trying to do and just let my body react to what I see.
“So that was very important to me. That sort of brought a little more I guess naturalness back into it. I think sometimes it got forced with what I was trying to do. And that’s on me. That’s me just getting inside my own head a little bit too much and not being able to separate the two. Being more visual, seeing more shots, seeing trajectories, seeing shapes. That’s what I’ve always done really, really well. And I got away from that, and I needed to try to get back to doing that more.”
A two-time winner of the DP World Tour Championship, in 2012 and again in 2015, McIlroy remarked: "It's a place I've had success on. It's a course that suits my game really well. I'll have a good chance this week. I don't feel like I need to do anything too special to give myself a chance on Sunday."
Purse: €7.7 million (€2.3m to the winner).
Where: Dubai, UAE.
The course: The Earth Course (7,675 yards, par 72) is a Greg Norman design that manages to incorporate lush fairways and copious water hazards on what was previously a desert landscape. The Great White Shark once described the last stretch of four finishing holes as "the most challenging mile in golf" which could be construed as hyperbole. Yet, it has proven a worthy and often testing venue for the end of the European Tour season, featuring risk-reward par fives coming home (the 14th and 18th, both measuring over 600 yards).
The field: Unfortunately no Jon Rahm, with the world number one and US Open champion citing the demands of a long season for his absence. Collin Morikawa, who leads the Race to Dubai (with bonus money also at play this week), is seeking to become the first American winner of the European Tour order of merit while compatriot Billy Horschel is hot on his heels. There are 53 players in the field (including Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed who received special invites after failing to play the required number of regular tour events) with no cut in the 72-hole strokeplay event.
Quote-unquote: "You know the course like the back of your hand, I'm thinking I could probably play it blindfolded."
– Defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick on his familiarity with the Earth course.
Irish in the field: Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry.
Betting: McIlroy – winner of the CJ Cup on his last outing – heads the market at 5-1 on a course where he has traditionally played well . . . Fitzpatrick (14-1) is another who has a good track record at the venue while Rasmus Hojgaard (55-1) appears decent each-way value.
On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf from 6am.