And here we are. The final instalment of a European Tour season which has featured 48 tournaments and taken in 31 countries reaches a climax in the United Arab Emirates this week.
The top 50 on the Race to Dubai standings make the annual trip to Jumeriah Golf Estates and the battle to be crowned European No. 1 is still very much alive.
In previous years, we’ve seen two or perhaps three players still in with a shout but this year there are still five players who can top the standings.
That said, the betting shows that leader Bernd Wiesberger is in prime position to hold top spot.
Fleetwood needs at least solo third to have a chance of overhauling Wiesberger, Rahm and Lowry require a top two while Fitzpatrick has to win.
For the 11th straight year, the Greg Norman-designed Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates plays host. It looks lengthy at 7,677 yards but the par 72, which is fairly gentle off the tee, continually yields low scores. Nine of the ten winners were 16-under or better (four of them well into the 20s). The greens are large, featuring Tifeagle Bermuda grass and sweeping run-offs. Five holes bring water into play including the island green at 17.
Past winners, scores and stats
2018 Danny Willett -18 (DD: 16, DA: 212, GIR: 3, Scr: 16, PA: 1, AA: 1)
2017 Jon Rahm-19 (DD: 4, DA: 22, GIR: 26, Scr: 10, PA: 3, AA: 2)
2016 Matthew Fitzpatrick -17 (DD: 16, DA: 2, GIR: 21, Scr: 5, PA: 2, AA: 1)
2015 Rory McIlroy -21 (DD: 1, DA: 37, GIR: 4, Scr: 10, PA: 4, AA: 2)
2014 Henrik Stenson -16 (DD: 2, DA: 2, GIR: 4, Scr: 41, PA: 16, AA: 2)
2013 Henrik Stenson -25 (DD: 7, DA: 1, GIR: 1, Scr: 2, PA: 8, AA: 1)
2012 Rory McIlroy -23 (DD: 2, DA: 22, GIR: 47, Scr: 19, PA: 1, AA: 3)
2011 Alvaro Quiros -19 (DD: 1, DA: 55, GIR: 4, Scr: 47, PA: 7, AA: 12)
2010 Robert Karlsson -14 (DD: 5, DA: 20, GIR: 12, Scr: 54, PA: 1, AA: 5)
Notes: The last six winners were in the top two for All-Around and the last four ranked in the top four for Putting Average. Being aggressive off the tee is also rewarded with every winner in the top 16 for DD. Hit it long and hole putts. Also note that eight of those ten winners had posted a previous European Tour win in the Middle East.
Somewhat unusually, we have rain forecast in the build up and that could include a t-storm on Wednesday. However, normal service is set to be resumed on the tournament days, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s and creeping towards 90.
The Leading Contenders (Race to Dubai positions in brackets)
Rory McIlroy (6)
Rory loves desert golf. His first European Tour win came here in Dubai ten years ago and he won this tournament in both 2012 and 2015. Only twice in nine appearances has he finished outside the top ten and they were T11 and T20. Adding to the mix, of course, is a run of form which has him sniffing the World No. 1 spot again. Rory has risen to second with two wins in his last six events, including victory on his most recent start in China.
Jon Rahm (3)
The Spaniard won here on debut in 2017 and also made the top four when defending last year. Seven of his eight rounds at the Earth course are in the 60s. Rahm also won the Spanish Open (by five!) on his last start. However, that was well over a month ago and he’s skipped the big Race to Dubai points earners in Turkey and South Africa. Will that lack of competitive sharpness blunt his bid this year?
Tommy Fleetwood (2)
From looking an unlikely contender to finish as European No. 1 for the second time in three years after a couple of sluggish displays, Fleetwood has jumped to second spot after a brilliant victory in South Africa last week when he came from six back on the final day, sprinkling three eagles in his closer. He’s not particularly convinced (does he putt well enough?) at this venue, though, managing just a single top ten (T9 in 2016) across his five visits. On a more positive note, Fleetwood is a two-time winner in the UAE having won the Abu Dhabi Championship in back-to-back years (2017 and 2018).
Patrick Reed (33)
The American has played in three of the last four editions of this event and has yet to finish outside the top ten (10-10-2). Last year’s second place came courtesy of 16-under. In terms of consistency, Reed is hard to beat. He’s cracked the top 25 in 13 of his last four 14 starts and his last two show T10 at the WGC-HSBC Champions and T8 in the Turkish Airlines Open where he shot a pair of middle 65s.
Justin Rose (32)
Rose just can’t seem to put four good rounds together right now, shooting one round of 72 or higher in each of his last seven tournaments. That’s held him back to the point where he has just a single top ten in that run so paying top dollar for him has been costly for gamers. He’s definitely a fan of this venue, however, finishing runner-up in 2012 and 2014 along with fourth place on his last start two years ago.
Tyrrell Hatton (8)
After a solid run of four top 20s, Hatton finally turned the hints into something much more tangible with a playoff victory at the Turkish Airlines Open two starts ago after ousting five others in the six-man shootout. That backed up the idea that he’s always worthy of investment in birdie-fests at this time of year (all his four European Tour wins have come in October/November) so it’s no surprise he has strong course form here at the Earth Course (22-8-2-13-6 reading back from last year). 1st on the All-Around when winning in Turkey.
Fleetwood finally got his first win of the season when taking the silverware in South Africa so can fellow Englishman Fitzpatrick do the same here? Well, he won this event in 2016 after finishing fourth on debut and also owns another pair of top fives in the UAE. A four-time runner-up this season, he’s still going strong and T7 in the WGC-HSBC and T10 at the Nedbank on his last two starts mean he still has a chance of winning the Race to Dubai if he gets that elusive ‘W’.
Louis Oosthuizen (9)
Despite suffering from kidney stones, Oosthuizen looked all set to take victory at his home Nedbank Golf Challenge last week when firing an opening 63 and still leading on the final day but he imploded on the back nine, coming home in 40 to slip to T6. While disappointing, it followed a top three in the WGC-HSBC so he’s clearly playing nicely. This is his first start at the Earth Course since 2016 although he’s done well previously with three top six finishes (2011, 2012 and 2014).
Henrik Stenson (34)
Stenson made Dubai his home for many years and he put that extra local knowledge to the best possible use here in 2013 and 2014, winning the title by six and two shots respectively. He also made the top ten in 2012 and 2016 before taking T12 last year. His current form is less convincing although hardly shabby – 17-MC-20-17. This would be an obvious place for him to jump back into the top ten.
Paul Casey (30)
With his focus on the PGA TOUR in recent years, Casey hasn’t played here since T54 in 2013. Prior to that he was T16 in 2011 and T6 on debut in 2010. Also T9 on his last appearance in the UAE (2018 Abu Dhabi Championship), in theory this is the type of golf that suits him. A winner of the European Open in September, he’s been a tad underwhelming since (11-MC-17-38).