As 60 of the world’s best golfers gather at Jumeirah Golf Estates for the climax of the European Tour season, four leading stars are still in the running to win the coveted Race to Dubai title, writes Michael Stoneman
There should be no shortage of drama when the European Tour season reaches its climax at this week's DP World Tour Championship, with four of the world’s top golfers set to battle it out for the 2016 Race to Dubai title.
Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett, Alex Noren and Rory McIlroy are all still in the hunt to be crowned the European Tour’s leading player, following a year-long battle that has spanned 47 tournaments in 27 destinations across all five continents.
Stenson, who won The Open Championship in stunning fashion in July to claim his first Major title, currently leads the rankings ahead of Dubai Desert Classic and Masters winner Willett, while Noren moved up to third position after claiming his fourth victory of the season at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa.
Defending champion McIlroy is also in contention for a third successive Race to Dubai title, but the 27-year-old must win this week to have any chance of being crowned European Tour no. 1 for the fourth time in his career, having missed the last two tournaments in the Finals Series.
The DP World Tour Championship – which begins on Thursday at Jumeirah’s Earth course – will feature 60 of the leading players in the European Tour rankings, who will play for a share of the US$8 million prize purse as well as all-important Race to Dubai points, with more than US$1.2 million awarded to the winner.
Stenson currently enjoys a lead of almost 300,000 points over Willett, who could leapfrog his Swedish rival with victory in Dubai. The Englishman could even claim the overall title with a fourth-placed finish if Stenson fails to crack the top 30, while the in-form Noren needs a minimum top-two finish.
The DP World Tour Championship will feature 60 of the leading players in the European Tour rankings, who will play for a share of the US$8 million prize purse as well as all-important Race to Dubai points
McIlroy, meanwhile, will need to win the DP World Tour Championship for the third time and hope that all of his rivals falter, with Stenson finishing outside the top 45, Willett outside the top five and Noren outside the top two.
The odds certainly appear to be stacked in Stenson’s favour, with the 40-year-old having won twice over the Earth Course, including his 2013 victory which secured that year’s Race to Dubai title. The Swede is also in decent form, enjoying two victories in his last nine starts and four further top-10 finishes, including a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Willett, meanwhile, has struggled with his game since his breakthrough Major victory at April’s Masters, with the Englishman managing just two top-10 finishes in his last 15 tournaments worldwide.
The 29-year-old did, however, managed to find some form at last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, shooting 67-69 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 11th. That was still 11 strokes behind a red-hot Noren, who shot a stunning 63 in the final round to claim his fourth title in 11 tournaments.
The Swede was 108th in the world rankings as recently as June, but a sensational run of form has seen him surge into the top 10 and the 34-year-old now has a realistic chance of overhauling his compatriot Stenson to finish the year as the Race to Dubai champion.
But it will not just be Stenson, Willett and McIlroy standing in his way at Jumeirah Golf Estates, with the elite field also boasting former world no. 1 players Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, Major champions Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, and multiple European Tour winners such as Sergio Garcia, Branden Grace and Thomas Pieters.
With so many top players in action, the stage is set for another thrilling finale to the European Tour season; the only question remaining is if it will be Stenson, Willett, Noren or McIlroy who takes the leading role.