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Thursday, February 25, 2021

McDowell the lone Irishman at European Tour finale

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Graeme McDowell will carry Irish hopes on his shoulders this week as the fourth and final Rolex Series event of 2020 brings the curtain down on the 38-tournament Race to Dubai campaign.

The Northern Irishman arrives to the Earth Course at Jumeriah Golf Estates looking to find the pre-Covid spark that saw him earn his last European Tour victory at the Saudi International back in February. There, three rounds in the 60s lay the foundation with a final round 70 and a 12-under tally good enough to take the €529,000 first prize cheque. It was McDowell’s second victory inside a calendar year after winning the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Championship and it was that form that saw him return to the top-50 on the world rankings and earn his place in the Masters.

However, that play has since abandoned McDowell who has missed four of six cuts on the PGA Tour since September’s US Open, including a disappointing showing at the Masters last month. His best performance since golf’s restart back in June arrived at the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship where he enjoyed a top-25 finish at Wentworth in October but that showing failed to spark a run of form with a share of 44th in Houston the pick of his PGA Tour outings of late.

Still, given the quality of his early season work, McDowell finds himself in the season finale amongst a star-studded 65-man field where it’s literally all to play for with 12,000 Race to Dubai points and a prize fund of US $8million on offer. This week’s winner will take home a cheque for $3million and 2,000 Race to Dubai points, which will be a deciding factor in the race to become European Number One. Mathematically, any of the leading 60 available players on the Race to Dubai rankings, plus Joost Luiten in 72nd position, could become Race to Dubai Champion with victory in the DP World Tour Championship.

Patrick Reed heads in to the final event at the top of the rankings as he bids to become the first American winner of the Race to Dubai, and is one of four players who could guarantee they become champion with a victory at the DP World Championship. Fellow American and PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, who currently sits in third place, could also achieve the feat on his tournament debut this week.

English pair Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood, who are in second and fourth place respectively, could also win the title. Both players have claimed the Race to Dubai before, with Fleetwood earning the honour in 2017, and Westwood winning the title in 2000, and again in 2009. Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Victor Perez, Aaron Rai and Tyrrell Hatton could be crowned Race to Dubai Champion with victory, provided Reed doesn’t finish second alone.

The 2020 Rookie of the Year award will be decided by a committee comprising two members of the Tournament Committee and two members of the Tour’s Executive following the end of the DP Wolrd Tour Championship. This is due to the unforeseen impact of Covid-19, which includes lower Race to Dubai points being available, members in the U.S. not travelling to events as intended due to quarantine issues, the repositioning of Major Championships and the revision of the qualification process into the U.S. Open, all of which have impacted on the opportunities for a broad range of members.

At the forefront of the race are four rookies who have claimed victories this season. Rasmus Højgaard, who is currently ranked 13th in the standings, earned the first of two titles in just his fifth start at the AFRASIA Bank Mauritius Open, which he then followed with a second win at the ISPS HANDA UK Championship in September. Sami Välimäki (ranked 18th) also made a quick start to his year with a win in his sixth start in a play-off at the Oman Open, while Collin Morikawa (3rd) claimed his first Major at the PGA Championship. Last week, Antoine Rozner (24th) earned his way into the winner’s circle for the first time at the inaugural Golf in Dubai Championship, becoming the fastest French player to earn a victory on the European Tour.

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