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Across the Pond

DP World Tour Champs Preview

by Matt Cooper
Updated On: November 14, 2018, 10:25 am ET

It is only fitting that the 2018 European Tour season ends with Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood hogging the headlines. 


The two good friends saw recent individual success transformed into glorious partnership at the Ryder Cup in Paris and with it they helped inspire Europe's 17.5-10.5 trouncing of the over-garlanded American visitors.


However, they have been far from the only stars of this season and the annual finale at Jumeirah will allow reflection on a campaign that witnessed multiple wins for Shubhankar Sharma, Matt Wallace and Eddie Pepperell; breakthrough successes for Chris Paisley, Alexander Bjork, Joakim Lagergren, Mikko Korhonen and Andrea Pavan; feel-good tales from Richard McEvoy, Tom Lewis and Paul Waring; plus further career advances from Lucas Bjerregaard, HaoTong Li and Adrian Otaegui.


With big money on offer and a high-grade field always assembled, the trophy has tended to end up in the hands of the bigger names on the European Tour yet picking a winner this week might be a ticklish riddle because the field is wide open.



Race to Dubai Standings


1. Francesco Molinari 4,709,921

2. Tommy Fleetwood 3,684,755

3. Justin Rose 3,431,616

4. Patrick Reed 3,268,511

5. Xander Schauffele 3,092,488


Solo second or better will guarantee Molinari the Race to Dubai crown. If Fleetwood wins, the Italian needs T5 with just one player (or better) to withstand the late charge. Keep an eye, too, on players who have a shot at making the end of year top ten: They earn a share of a $5 million bonus pool.



The Course


The Greg Norman-designed Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates has always hosted this event and now celebrates a tenth renewal. It's a par 72 which doesn't ask particularly subtle questions from the tee, instead relying on distance (it's 7,675 yards). Eight of nine 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


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)

2009 Lee Westwood -23 (DD: 8, DA: 7, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 5, AA: 1)


Notes: Eight of the nine winners ranked top eight for Driving Distance and eight (not the same eight) also ranked top eight for Putting Average. The last two winners have bucked one trend because before their success all the previous champions had already lifted trophies in the Middle East. 





Unsurprisingly for Dubai sunny clear skies and temperatures in the high 80s/low 90s are confidently predicted. More intriguingly the wind could be a factor, with the possibility of consistent 15mph breezes gusting up to 25mph and more as the week wears on.



The Leading Contenders - for one week only, the Race to Dubai top 11 (Justin Rose is not playing)


Francesco Molinari 

The Italian's record in this event is remarkably similar to his career record ahead of this season: nine starts with seven top 20s including four top six finishes, but no win. This year, of course, he has turned himself from Signor Consistent to Signor Winner so can he match that transformation this week? One concern is fatigue, another the distraction of the Race to Dubai lead, a third off-the-course responsibilities, and a fourth is the greens. The last two years he has ranked second and first for Ball-striking, but has needed 31.13 putts per round and over his nine visits all his putting stats have regressed rather than improved.


Tommy Fleetwood 

Is this course a good fit for the Englishman? In five visits he has a best of T9 in 2016. A pair of 65s in the middle of last year's event turned a bad week into a potentially good one (T4 after 54 holes), but a final day 74 saw him slip backwards. His struggles tend to come early: In his first three starts he was no better than T39 after 36 holes, last year he was T46 after 18. But it would take a bold man to ignore a guy whose poor course form at Abu Dhabi and Le Golf National didn't stop him winning at both.


Patrick Reed 

There's been a certain symmetry about Reed's visits here. In both 2015 and 2017 he carded a pre-weekend 65, both Saturdays he recorded a 68, both Sundays he ended the tournament T10, and both week he ranked fourth for Putting Average. There was, however, some distinction between his Ball-striking: first in the field in 2015, 43rd last year. A concern would be maintaining his threat. He led the field by one after 18 holes last year and was T3 with a round to play three years ago. Very similar to his form: T2 after 54 holes last time out in the HSBC Champions ahead of T7.


Xander Schauffele 

A tournament debut for the 25-year-old but if we've learned one thing about him it's that neither that nor a big occasion ever faze him. He owns four top 20s from seven major championship starts, three of them top six, two this year. He also has four WGC top 20s from six starts, with victory in last month's HSBC Champions the standout. Toss in second place on his PLAYERS' debut in May and victory in last year's Tour Championship, and you have a guy who clearly loves the main stage.


Rory McIlroy

He has a fine course record, collecting seven top tens from his eight visits, including victories in 2012 and 2015. The key would appear to be the freedom he is permitted from the tee box: he's ranked first in Driving Distance in each of his last three starts, and was second in the previous two. But what to make of that form? A dismal T54 at the HSBC Champions and T21 last week in the Nedbank Challenge, averaging 73.13 per lap and hitting only four in 10 fairways he aimed at. At least this week they will be wider.


Thorbjorn Olesen

The Dane is something of a horses-for-courses type, repeating his form at favored (and not so favored) venues. If that continues this week expect a solid but unspectacular top 25 because in seven appearances that's what he has ticked off six times. His only failure to do so was last year when T36, but in all that time he has only once poked his nose into the top ten after 36 or 54 holes, when eventually T12 (his best finish) in 2014. Finished T7 in both his last two starts.


Alex Noren

Is the Swede a little tired or trending in the right direction? The question is posed because he hasn't made a top 15 in eight starts since he won the Open de France, but since back-to-back missed cuts in August his form reads: T43-T24-T18-T18. Those last two efforts came despite opening with 74 both times. He's a frequent visitor to the course and was T6 on debut in 2009, but he's failed to record a top 20 in his five returns there and in all that time only once featured in the top ten at the end of any round.


HaoTong Li

If the Chinese golfer can get off to a decent start he could threaten this week. On debut in 2016 he was T30, but improved his position in every round after opening with a 74. Twelve months later he scratched a Thursday 72 and again moved through the field eventually ticking T13. His form is good (T11 or better in each of his last five starts) and the confidence is high.


Eddie Pepperell

There have to be concerns about his fitness after he missed out on the HSBC Champions with a back problem and hasn't returned since. It's limited his movement and as a consequence his practice. It's also a reality that his course form is pretty ordinary. Even with two Saturday 66s in his log book he has only managed T26-T58-T48 and the closest he has ever been to the lead at the end of a round? T26 after 54 holes in 2014. 


Lucas Bjerregaard

At first glance his course record would be one to wonder about. He was T31 on debut in 2015, going backwards through the field all week. Last year he opened with 75-74 and closed with a 77 on his way to T58. The problem? He ranked 56th and 48th (in a field of 60) for Greens in Regulation and 51st and 52nd at Putts per GIR. But he's 11th on the Race to Dubai and the reason is hot form. He has eight top 20s in his last nine starts, including T11 last week when he shot 65 in the final round.