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).
Course Horse/Neat Fit
Danny Willett (18)
Took the title here last year and finished fourth in 2015. Also won the Dubai Desert Classic a few months before his Masters triumph and showed his thirst for big titles with victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in September although rather flat since.
Matt Wallace (7)
The good news: shot 68-65-71-68 to finish runner-up on his debut here 12 months ago and also took second in the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year. The bad news: current form of 44-50-60.
Shane Lowry (4)
Like Willett in 2016, Lowry paved the way for his big breakthrough in the majors with victory in the UAE (Abu Dhabi Championship) earlier this year. Showed his liking for desert golf at this event with a second (2017), a fifth (2015) and an eighth (2011 debut). Two starts in November have resulted in T43 in China and T62 in Turkey so is he mentally winding down?
Francesco Molinari (28)
Has back-to-back top fours (2015/16) and back-to-back top sixes (2010/11) at this venue as well as three further top 17s. The worry is that he’s still not posted a top ten since his heartbreaking Sunday at Augusta National. T44 in Turkey last time.
Andy Sullivan (46)
A runner-up at this event in 2015 and also second at the 2016 Dubai Desert Classic (also T6 there in 2018). T8 at the Portugal Masters two starts ago.
Bernd Wiesberger (1)
It’s a been of run of very high peaks (three wins) and a few troughs for the Austrian over the last six months. But after a pair of T49s, he’s on an upward curve again after T3 in South Africa on Sunday. A T4 at this course in 2016 suggests there is a possibility the current Race to Dubai leader can put an exclamation mark on his sensational season.
Lee Westwood (31)
Poor form in September (three MCs) and October but has bounced back with T10 at the Turkish and T6 in last week’s Nedbank. That sets him up nicely for a tournament where he has a win, a third, a fifth and two further top 20s in the last three years.
Thomas Detry (41)
A little disappointed to not get closer in South Africa last week when poised for a first win but T3 along with T8 at the Open de France two events earlier shows he’s finishing the season on a high. T29 on his Earth Course debut in 2018.
Marcus Kinhult (13)
The British Masters winner was suggesting a return to that form with a run of three top 20s and he came within a whisker of banking a second win of the campaign before losing to Fleetwood in a playoff at the Nedbank on Sunday, the pair four clear of the field. T22 here on debut last year.
Jason Scrivener (35)
Since mid-October Scrivener has been getting better by the week – 55-26-21-3. Has ranked 1st in Scrambling in his last two starts (Turkey, Nedbank). First look at course but has some nice form on his last three starts in the UAE (7-16-6).
Andrea Pavan (29)
A solid T22 on his DP debut in 2018 and six top 20s in last ten starts although none in the last three. Strong putter.
Mikko Korhonen (48)
The steady Finn has three top 25s in his last four starts and managed a pair of 69s on his first look at the Earth Course last year before falling away on Sunday.
Guido Migliozzi (40)
Surprise double winner in 2019 has flashed some decent form in late-season too with 14-10-21 in his latest three events.
No form in this part of the world but he’s had a campaign to remember and added T24 in last week’s Nedbank. Ranks 13th in SG: Putting.
Adri Arnaus (30)
Four top sixes between the end of June and early October have shown the Spanish youngster’s potential. Won the Challenge Tour’s Grand Final in Dubai last November.
Aaron Rai (45)
Keeps popping up with decent results and has two top 20s (T18 Italy and T13 Nedbank, 1st GIR) in his last four starts. Here for the second straight year (T48 on debut).
Benjamin Hebert (15)
A top-15 position on the Race to Dubai is some effort by the Frenchman, who has six Challenge Tour wins but none at this level. Runner-up in Scottish Open and Turkish Airlines Open.
Jorge Campillo (19)
Could be an interesting outsider. Superb form earlier in the year before a huge slump but T28 Turkey and T13 Nedbank suggests a corner has been turned. T9 at this course in 2016.
David Lipsky (43)
Like Campillo, he makes this season closer due to exploits much earlier in the year. A few recent hints though and has improved his finish each visit here (57-35-24).
JB Hansen (51)
Sneaks into the field so this is a free hit. Five top 25s in last six starts, including second and fourth, so could do some debut damage.
1. Rory McIlroy
2. Jon Rahm
3. Tommy Fleetwood
4. Patrick Reed
5. Justin Rose
6. Tyrrell Hatton
7. Matthew Fitzpatrick
8. Louis Oosthuizen
9. Henrik Stenson
10. Bernd Wiesberger
11. Paul Casey
12. Matthias Schwab
13. Danny Willett
14. Shane Lowry
15. Robert MacIntyre
16. Erik van Rooyen
17. Lee Westwood
18. Sergio Garcia
19. Thomas Detry
20. Joost Luiten