Fleetwood out to prove doubters wrong and win Race to Dubai
Paul Dunne and Shane Lowry needing something special to earn US Masters invites
Tommy Fleetwood of England walks off the 6th green during the Pro-Am prior to the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Tommy Fleetwood is backing himself to have the last laugh after his chances of winning the Race to Dubai for the first time were considered a joke in some quarters.
Fleetwood has set the pace for most of the season thanks to wins in Abu Dhabi and France, two runners-up finishes and a tie for fourth in the US Open, but found his credentials as a European number one in question on social media.
“I remember seeing a Tweet somewhere and somebody laughed at the thought of me winning the Race to Dubai, so that motivated me a bit more,” Fleetwood admitted ahead of the decisive DP World Tour Championship.
“Somebody had put, ‘Who do you think will win?’, and I wasn’t included. (Renowned putting coach) Phil Kenyon said, ‘What about the current leader?’, and somebody laughed.
“Little things like that always motivate you a little bit, but I don’t remember who it was.”
For Irish duo Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne the final tournament of the European Tour season offers a chance to pick up some of the huge world ranking points on offer and, for Dunne, perhaps take home a share of the Race to Dubai bonus pool on offer to the top-10 players in the rankings at the end of the week.
The Greystones man currently sits 15th in the rankings after his best season to date which included a maiden professional win at the British Masters last month. If he could finish high enough this week to move into the top-10 he would add a sizeable cheque to his already well stocked coffers with his season earnings currently sitting at €1,620,925.
Whoever tops the final order of merit will get a bonus of US$1.25 million with incremental decreases down to 10th, which will earn a bonus of US$250,000.
However, the real aim for both Dunne and Lowry is to make it into the top 50 in the world rankings by the end of the year when invitations to the US Masters are sent out. Currently sitting 77th and 85th respectively it’s a big ask for both men but nothing a win this week couldn’t change with 50 world ranking points on offer for the man who lifts the trophy on Sunday.
Dunne will then round off his year at next week’s Hong Kong Open – the first tournament on the new 2018 European Tour season – while Lowry will join Graeme McDowell in the QBE Shootout in Naples, Florida on the PGA Tour next month.
Fleetwood looked a near-certainty until Justin Rose won back-to-back events in China and Turkey to slash his commanding lead, a lead he almost doubled to 256,738 points thanks to a tie for 10th in South Africa last week as Rose rested at home.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia can prevent an English champion with a fourth victory of the season in Dubai, but also needs Fleetwood and Rose to falter and is using new clubs in competition for the first time after his deal with TaylorMade expired.
“I would put my money on me. Every day,” added Fleetwood, whose fiancee and baby son are with him this week. “It will be a perfect way to end a year that’s been amazing for me, the biggest year of my career by a long way.
“You do look at individual events like the majors. They are the ones that everybody wants to win. I think it is a bit harsh that a lot of people’s careers are defined by four events. At the end of the day anybody can have a hot week with the putter and win.
“Over the course of a year, it’s a lot more difficult and I think it does hold a lot of respect with your peers, having that consistency throughout a year.
“The list of players that have won it is great. I’m either going to join that list or the list of great players is going to carry on with one of the other two. I want it to be me.”
Rose won what was then called the Order of Merit in 2007 and coincidentally did so with victory in the final event of the year, the Volvo Masters at Valderrama.
“I still think it’s one of my biggest achievements in the game,” said the former US Open champion and Olympic gold medallist, who missed 21 cuts in succession after turning professional following a tie for fourth in the 1998 Open as a 17-year-old amateur.
“Any time you beat world-class players over the course of a year, it means often a lot more than it does winning in a week.
“It was as if my potential as a kid, the Birkdale boy.... it was like I had really achieved something to justify some of that early hype.”
DP World Tour Championship – the lowdown
Course: Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE.
Prize money: €6.87m (€1.217m to the winner).
Length: 7,706 yards. Par: 72.
Defending champion: Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Course overview: Since 2009 the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course has hosted the final event of the European Tour season which it was specifically built for. Very little trees, overly lush green grass and marble-white bunkers give the course a classic Dubai luxury resort feel. The 102 bunkers tend to be the main challenge with the island 17th green and a tough 620-yard par five finishing hole designed for dramatic finishes. However the pros tend to find the course a birdie fest with scores such as 23 under (twice), 21 under and 25 under winning in four of the eight tournaments played at the course.
A look at the field: With the Race to Dubai coming down to the wire given that little or nothing separates Tommy Fleetwood or Justin Rose at the top, it could set up to be a dramatic weekend if they challenge for the title. Sergio Garcia can also steal the overall order of merit title if he wins and Fleetwood finishes outside the top 11 and Rose outside the top three. Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne make up the Irish contingent with serious world ranking points on offer and, for Dunne, the chance to slip into the top 10 of the R2D and claim a share of the €4.2m prize pot dished out to those 10 players.
Tips: While it’s always risky to bet on defending champions, Matthew Fitzpatrick (16/1) is hard to look past this week. The Englishman held off Tyrrell Hatton here last year and has shown some good form coming into this. A tied-eighth finish last week probably should have been a win were it not for an out of character 77 on day two, followed by a birdie-blitz over the weekend. Meanwhile, Joost Luiten (40/1) has been in excellent form of late with a lowest finish of tied-16th in the last three weeks. Couple that with four top-15 finishes here in the last five years and he looks like good value.
Weather forecast: Hot, sunny and calm for the four days.
Irish in action: Shane Lowry (first round tee time: 4.40am Irish time), Paul Dunne (first round tee time: 7.40am Irish time).
On TV: Sky Sports Golf from 8am. – Ruaidhrí Croke