European Tour 2020 reaches its climax this week with the DP World Tour Championship which is a tournament within a tournament as it also decides the winner of the year-long Race To Dubai – what we oldies used to call the Order of Merit.
That was in the days Colin Montgomerie won it seven years in a row, then added an eighth later. Nobody could dominate like that nowadays and double champions Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm won’t be making it three just yet as they aren’t in the field.
Nor are Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia who haven’t played well enough to qualify. The absence of those marquee names is a blow to logistics giants DP World in what isn’t the “World Tour Championship”, as some call it, but the Tour Championship, backed my DP World’s millions.
There’s $8m on the table plus $2m more in Race To Dubai bonuses and US raider Patrick Reed is a worthy favourite to cop both. Last year Rahm went home with a handy $3.3m or almost £2.5m. Either way, it’s a heap of money.
A great supporter of European golf, Reed says one of his greatest ambitions is to win the Race To Dubai. His third at Wentworth helped the controversial Texan to qualify, along with WGC victory in Mexico and high finishes in the Majors, all of which count for RTD points.
He holds a handsome points lead of 460 over closest pursuer Tommy Fleetwood but with enhanced points of 12,000 at stake here, 2000 of which go the Tour Championship winner, ‘Captain America’ is a long way from being home and hosed.
But he plays the 7,677-yard Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates well – he was joint runner-up to Danny Willett two years ago and tenth to Rahm the previous year.
I like his chances, which have obviously been greatly improved with the Rory and Rahm no-shows, but not his single-figure price. Even though there are only 65 runners, I was expecting 10-1 the field.
Generous place terms considering the limited size of the field encourage each-way punting so the plan is to have a pop of golfers further down the market as Reed is not the only PGA Tour regular making the crossing to Dubai.
Young bucks Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Sungjae Im, with a combined age just 68, don’t have Reed’s course savvy but Andy Sullivan shot a 61 in his first competitive round on the neighbouring Fire course last week so inexperience shouldn’t put you off.
Hovland, who gets in on his top-75 world ranking, arrives on the back of his Mayakoba victory. As a Norwegian he will be very much on Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington’s radar so a big performance here would underline his claim.
Morikawa is already a Major winner, looking coolness personified when landing the US PGA in August, while the homeless Im, who lives from hotel to hotel and would play every week if he could, broke through at the Honda pre-Covid in March.
The Korean is a big-occasion player and was runner-up to Dustin Johnson in the long-delayed Masters last month. He should give us a great run on his Dubai debut.
Tyrrell Hatton is the leading Brit in the betting but it is Tommy Fleetwood who has the course form as runner-up to Rahm last year and will be keen to get something out of an underwhelming year.
Matt Fitzgerald comes into the equation as the winner here four years ago and is another looking for that elusive W in 2020 and the same goes for another Matt, Wallace, runner-up to Willett two years ago and filling the same spot behind Antoine Rozner at the weekend. At least we know the Londoner’s game is in decent nick.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout has just won back to back in his home country to jump to fifth in the Race To Dubai rankings but three in a row? Surely not in this stronger company.
We are looking for a sunshine ending to a stormy year and the weather is playing ball with a cloudless four days forecast. Bring it on!
A Major in December? It’s never happened before but we’ve never had a Covid pandemic before. Needs must and all the stops in this unique year have been pulled out to prevent the US Women’s Open biting the dust as the Evian has sadly had to do.
So the creme de la creme of the women’s game is at the Champions club in Houston for the first time this week, with three rounds on the 7301-yard par 71 Cypress Creek course and one on the Jackrabbit, almost 300 yards shorter.
The main course hosted the men’s US Open 51 years ago, the only win in the late-blooming career of 14-year Army sergeant Orville Moody, the straightest driver I ever played with, but this is its first on the LPGA circuit. So no course form to guide us.
The Lone Star State also hosted last week’s final warm-up tournament where 43-year-old Texas native Angela Stanford rolled back the years to tame a top-quality field which featured world No.1 Jin Young Ko and seven-time Major champion Inbee Park.
That was only Ko’s second 2020 LPGA start as she felt happier on home ground with Covid about and she decided to test-drive a new swing on the Korean circuit, playing half a dozen tournaments (three top-tens) before hitting the States in November.
She co-led last week until double-bogeying a short hole early in the back nine but still finished fifth. This winner of two 2019 Majors, is not No. 1 for nothing and is better than an 18-1 shot.
Stanford, bidding to go back to back as Sei Young Kim had just done before her, is a seasoned campaigner with seven titles to her name and 66-1 underrates her chance.
Kim won the two so imperiously it is no surprise she’s favourite. Already with one 2020 Major under her belt and chasing her sixth victory in two years, it’s impossible to leave her out.
The course may be a bit long for flat-stick wizard Inbee Park, last year’s winner JeongeunLee6 (she added the 6 because there were already five Jeongeun Lees when she joined) is not playing that well and it could be worth chancing Emily Pedersen.
Odds of 80-1 seem generous for the confident Dane who has just mopped up the last three events on the European circuit. The opposition was nothing like as deep as what she faces in Houston but confidence is a wonderful drug.
With Mel Reid and Georgia Hall first-time winners in the States and Charley Hull posting her best LPGA finish of the year with her share of second on Sunday, the Brits have a strong hand. Hull could be a 50-1 stunner as the long course will suit.