As the European Tour’s Race to Dubai heads to Wentworth for the first event of the new Rolex Series, Michael Stoneman picks out some of the leading contenders for one of golf’s most prestigious prizes
Olympic champion Justin Rose is sure to enjoy plenty of home support as he makes his first appearance on British soil since claiming a historic gold medal in Rio last summer. But despite boasting a US Open title and an Olympic gold medal on his résumé, the 36-year-old is quickly gaining a reputation as a nearly man. A runner-up finish at last month’s Masters was his second at Augusta, while he has also twice finished second at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, and is yet to win the Race to Dubai title despite four top-four finishes in the last five years. The Englishman, who missed last year’s BMW PGA Championship with a back injury, has also twice finished as runner-up at Wentworth, and a victory over the West Course will go a long way to him claiming his first Race to Dubai crown.
Since finishing second behind Sergio Garcia at this year’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the reigning Open champion has struggled to recapture his best form, although a top-20 finish at The Players Championship has steadied the ship after three straight missed cuts. The Swede will be making his first appearance at Wentworth since he finished tied seventh at the BMW PGA Championship in 2014, and will be aiming for a similarly high finish as he seeks to retain his Race to Dubai title.
Having finished first and fourth at Wentworth in the last two seasons, the defending champion clearly enjoys the event, although he hasn’t been playing his best golf since claiming last year’s BMW PGA Championship title. A tie for 11th at January’s Qatar Masters, followed by a top-20 finish at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, signalled a return to form. A tie for fourth at last month’s Volvo China Open – his best result since his one-shot victory over Rikard Karlberg at Wentworth – means the 29-year-old will head to Surrey with a spring in his step.
Having ended 2016 ranked 99th in the world, Tommy Fleetwood’s impressive form this year – including a victory at January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – has seen him rise as high as 28th, with only Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Justin Thomas having gained more world-ranking points in 2017. The Englishman will have mixed memories of Wentworth, having made a rare albatross en route to a tied-sixth finish in 2015, but also enduring a third-round 81 in last year’s event.
Last year’s Masters and Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion withdrew injured from The Players Championship earlier this month, saying his “body and mind need a rest”, and the 29-year-old appears to have suffered a crisis of confidence since winning his maiden Major title at Augusta last year. Willett has only finished in the top-10 four times in 26 events since donning the Green Jacket, but one of those did come at last year’s BMW PGA Championship. If he recovers from his back troubles to tee it up at Wentworth this year, it could prove fascinating viewing.