Shane Lowry can top dream season with Race to Dubai victory
Out of Bounds: Season now enters prime time for raking in the big prize money
Shane Lowry plays a shot during the Pro-Am tournament prior to the start of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Back in the day when the old World Matchplay Championship was held on the Burma Road – aka the West Course at Wentworth – in the middle of October, Ernie Els was once too honest in admitting the late-season run-in was about accumulating greenbacks. “When it comes to the end of the year, you’ve got to push the wheelbarrow out,” he said, failing to hide his grin as the words escaped his mouth.
That was in 2007, would you believe? It was a time when the limited-field Matchplay kick-started a run of tournaments that took players onwards to Asia, where sponsors were not behind the door in offering sizeable appearance fees to players, and Els and his ilk were only too glad to be the poster boys in taking the largesse.
As this week’s BMW Championship – which has moved from a May date to a new September slot on the PGA European Tour – returns to leafy Wentworth, the landscape has changed dramatically since Els’ time. It’s not so much about appearance fees getting the kerching sound going, rather about a lucrative run-up to the rest of the season where genuinely the better you play the better the financial rewards.
There are 10 tournaments left on the European Tour’s 2019 schedule and, of them, five are part of the elite Rolex Series while the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai is a WGC championship. It would require a lorry rather than a wheelbarrow to manage the greenbacks should anyone go on a run, which culminates with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in late-November.
It doesn’t come as any surprise to hear Shane Lowry identify topping the Order of Merit as his priority for what is left of the season.
As if stands, the Offalyman – with a Major championship at the British Open and a Rolex event in Abu Dhabi at the start of the season on his roll-of-honour so far – is number one on the Race to Dubai rankings. In what is already a great year for him, it would be the icing on the cake should he remain top of the pile; while, surely, Player of the Year honours will also come his way as the only European player to win a Major this season.
“I want to stay there,” observed Lowry of his desire to remain at number one. “But I’m going to have to play some good golf and I’m going to have to maybe win again. I’m just going to go out like I’ve been doing all year, day after day, and try and shoot as good a score as I can and see where it leaves me at the end of it. First and foremost, I want to win the Race to Dubai.”
Rory McIlroy – in 2012, 2014 and 2015 – is the only Irish player to win the Race to Dubai, although Pádraig Harrington (2006) and Ronan Rafferty (1989) did top the old version order of merit.
Lowry’s schedule for the rest of the year, apart from one breakout to play the Zozo Championship in Japan which is actually part of the PGA Tour, is European Tour focused: it takes him from Wentworth this week to Scotland for next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, then a week-off followed by the Italian Open and another week’s break. Then it is on to Japan, followed by the HSBC in Shanghai. Lowry has yet to decide on whether to play the following week’s Turkish Airlines Open or the Nedbank Championship (it will be one or the other, although his record in Turkey is the more decent) and, then, it will finish up in Dubai.
All to play for, really; comfortable in his own skin knowing that no matter what happens, it has already been a great, great season.
BMW PGA Championship lowdown
Course: West Course, Wentworth Golf Club, Surrey.
Prize money: €6.3 million (€1.1m to the winner).
Length: 7,284 yards. Par: 72.
Defending champion: Francesco Molinari.
Course overview: Wentworth has hosted this tournament since 1984 and has undergone numerous changes over those years. Another change this year is the move from a usual May slot to mid-September where it will this week act as the first counting competition for next year’s European Ryder Cup team. Ernie Els’ original changes were not met with too much positivity from players but tweaks since then have changed things and the greens, complete with sub-air system, are as good as players will play on all year. Tree-lined fairways make accuracy the premium while two closing Par 5s set up an exciting finish.
A look at the field: British Open champion Shane Lowry returns to European Tour action for the first time since Portrush and he is joined by fellow Open champions Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari for the first two rounds. Paul Dunne and Pádraig Harrington round off the Irish quartet while there are plenty of other big names in the field for this Rolex Series event such as Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood while Norweigan sensation Viktor Hovland makes his first European Tour appearance.
Tips: Matt Wallace (25/1) has performed well on home turf over the last few years at the likes of the British Masters and a third place finish at last week’s KLM Open shows he is in some good form. His temperament continues to be a potential downfall but he is making a habit of performing in the big events and, on the European Tour at least, they don’t come much bigger than this. He also ranks third in stroke average and 11th in greens in regulation this season, the latter being a key factor around Wentworth. Robert MacIntyre (66/1) has been a revelation in his first season on the European Tour with six top-15 finishes so far including a tied-3rd in Germany two weeks ago. The left-handers constant presence on leaderboards throughout the year suggests he is just waiting for that big breakthrough.
Weather forecast: Sunny and warm with light breezes for all four days.
Irish in the field: Pádraig Harrington (first round tee time: 8.35am), Rory McIlroy (first round tee time: 8.55am), Shane Lowry (first round tee time: 8.55am), Paul Dunne (first round tee time: 1.40pm).
On TV: Sky Sports Golf from 10am on Thursday. – Ruaidhrí Croke