Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Tom McKibbin’s presence in Dubai for the DP World Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship means that this is the first time since the Horizon Irish Open that all three of the leading Irish on the Race to Dubai tee it up together.
Whilst McIlroy already has the number one ranking and the accompanying Harry Vardon Trophy secured, besides the financial incentive of the $3 million first prize cheque, it is McKibbin whose life would be most radically altered with a victory at Jumeirah Estate’s Earth Course.
Coming into the week ranked 41st in the Race to Dubai, the 20-year-old Holywood rookie may seem a long way off the incentive which sees the top-10 non-exempt players earn PGA Tour cards for 2024, but with 2,000 points on offer, a win this week would see McKibbin leapfrog at least three of those currently projected to qualify.
It’s a big ask, particularly with the presence of defending champion and three-time Earth Course winner Jon Rahm, two-time course winner McIlroy, and world number three and the hottest player of the last few months, Viktor Hovland. Not to mention major winners Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick, and a further five of the European Ryder Cup team.
Whatever happens this week, it’s been an excellent debut season for McKibbin who all but guaranteed his place in this week’s field with an incredible victory in the Porsche European Open and should he fall short of the PGA Tour card, he’ll likely be the sole Irish competitor in most of the DP World Tour events next year after the remaining hopefuls all fell short at this week’s Q-School Final Stage.
For Lowry, this week represents an opportunity to end what’s been a slightly frustrating season on a positive note. Having started the year ranked 20th in the world, he’s fallen to 35, despite missing just five cuts in 23 starts, and a confidence booster going into 2024 would be extremely welcome, especially as he needs to start the year fast to play his way into next year’s PGA Tour, big-money ‘Signature Events’.
McIlroy, who ranked his own season as a 7/10 in his pre-tournament press conference, is effectively playing with house money. A third Rolex Series win may force a rethink on the grading, but having opted to resign from his PGA Tour Policy Board duties, he’s already looking to 2024 and more importantly, the four major championships as he seeks to end what would be a ten-year drought should he fail to capture one of golf’s ‘big four’ titles next year.
With the pairings dictated by Race to Dubai rankings, McIlroy and Rahm, ranked one and two, form the marquee final pairing at 08:45 Irish time on day one, with Ryan Fox and three-time season winner Adrian Meronk teeing off ten minutes ahead.
McKibbin joins Scot Ewan Ferguson at 04:10 in the group ahead of Lowry and Frenchman Julien Brun who start their rounds at 04:00.