We’re paying SIX places at the DP World Tour Championship!
Not satisfied with murdering us in the Ryder Cup, the Americans are now favourites to run off with the glittering prizes that go to the winner of this week’s European Tour showdown when the DP World Tour Championship will identify who finishes top dog in the year-long Race To Dubai.
That situation came about when Jon Rahm, easily Europe’s best hope of repelling the US raiders, stunned public and sponsors by withdrawing, the Spanish superstar claiming fatigue after a roller-coaster year during which he twice had Covid and became a first-time dad.
In third place in the Race To Dubai behind American aces Collin Morikawa and Billy Horschel, he, as a two-time winner of the Tour Championship, was Europe’s chief standard-bearer. The only others who could overhaul Morikawa are Tyrrell Hatton, Min Woo Lee, Matt Fitzpatrick and Paul Casey but they were a thousand points and more behind Rahm and only outright victory on the Earth course at Jumeirah Estates could do the trick for that quartet.
Even if Rory McIlroy wins a third Tour Championship there, he’s too far back to catch Open champion Morikawa who is 232 points ahead of Wentworth winner Horschel.
Fitzpatrick’s recent win at Valderrama suggests he is best coming from off the pace rather than leading so in sixth place on the money list he is under the radar in one way yet in the spotlight as last year’s Tour Championship winner.
Like McIlroy, he’s a double winner on the Greg Norman-designed Earth course, a 7675-yard par 72 that sounds enormous but doesn’t faze a medium hitter like the Sheffield star, champion in 2016 and 2020 and top-12 in 2017 and 2019.
He recalls coming into last year struggling but says his confidence is far higher now, thanks to that Valderrama win. His strength with the long irons makes up for any disadvantage off the tee and it’s encouraging that he knows the course so well he could play it blindfold. And this outstanding putter loves the purity of the greens.
McIlroy is in much the same boat, a dual champion with five other top-tens in 12 visits. “it’s a course that really suits my game,” he says, “and I don’t feel I have to do anything special to give myself a chance.”
Buoyed by his second victory of the year in Las Vegas last month, the only discouraging thing about Rory is his price, 6/1. But he’s certainly talking a good game and that pair have a big edge in positive course experience over first-timer Horschel and Morikawa, who was back in tenth on debut last year.
The $9m climax to the European Tour year has a no-cut field of just 53 – and the money doesn’t stop there as the top five on the final list will share a $5m bonus pool, $2m of which goes to the RTD winner.
Australian youngster Min Woo Lee, who has leapt up to fifth spot after following his Scottish Open victory with top efforts at Valderrama and on Jumeirah’s easier Fire course, could scarcely be arriving in better form but this is a big step up.
Morikawa, here not just because of The Open but also for winning the points-counting WGC event in Florida, can go closer this time but at the prices I’d sooner be on another American raider, Patrick Reed who has impressed here before, runner-up to Danny Willett in 2018 and third to Fitzpatrick last year.
His driving wasn’t too hot the last twice we’ve seen him but he will get away with some of it on these generous fairways.
Horschel’s case rests mainly with that Wentworth victory as all his other late-year form has been underwhelming and I am yet to be convinced Will Zalatoris is anything out of the ordinary. Steady Mexican Abraham Ancer, now a WGC winner, has made more of an impression and his lack of power isn’t as important as you might think.
Fitzpatrick and McIlroy apart, Europe could also be well served by Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry as Hatton has been expensive to follow, while Casey should have done better than 31st on the Fire course last week and Tommy Fleetwood couldn’t scare the leaders even though his first two rounds of 66 gave him an ideal platform.
Lowry was a one-shot runner-up to Rahm four years ago and made the top-ten in 2019. Garcia was top-ten on his last three visits, his fourth to Rahm in 2017 his best, and recent form has been encouraging if not compelling.
Thomas Pieters, sixth to Rahm two years ago, posted his first victory for an age in Portugal and could be an each-way play while the same comment applies to Lucas Herbert who has won on both main tours this year and knows how to win when he gets the opportunity.
For once the PGA Tour takes second billing to Europe with the low-key RSM Classic at Sea Island, Georgia without a box-office name in sight and only two current Ryder Cup players, Scottie Scheffler and Harris English, on parade.
Scheffler is 12/1 favourite after his second place to 50/1 winner Jason Kokrak in Houston but it is English who looks the value at 28/1.
True, he doesn’t have the compelling current form that Scheffler brings to the table because he’s been nursing a back problem but English has proved he knows how to win which, for all his promise and undoubted talent, Scheffler has yet to do.
The sporty, shortish Seaside course at the St Simon’s Island resort has been a haven for first-timers with five of the 11 winners tour maidens when they teed off so Scheffler is in the right place and the opposition won’t frighten him. But there’s still a but!
The first two rounds are shared with the Plantation course (7060 yards, par 72) with the more scenic Seaside (7005 yards, par 70) going it alone for the last 36.
Scheffler has had a number of half-chances in the few years he’s been on tour without taking them and his Sunday performance in Houston when going out last with a one-stroke lead was not over-impressive. Even so, he will be hard to beat.
English, making his first start for five weeks after pulling out injured from the CJ Cup during the fourth round, not only knows the courses like the back of his hand as a Sea Island resident but he was a double winner last year, the first, at the Tournament of Champions In Hawaii, coming after the Christmas/New Year break.
So we know he can go well fresh – and he tied for sixth in the last RSM.
This tournament usually sees hot putters like Kevin Kisner and Webb Simpson in the mix. Kisner won this with a record 22-under score in 2015 and went down only in a play-off last year after catching Robert Streb with a closing 63.
There are not many courses where he has the game to challenge but the Seaside fits his eye and his Wyndham victory in August was a reminder of how good he can be when bombers have little advantage.
Streb has only won twice in a journeyman 12-year career, both victories coming here. The 34-year-old Oklahoman looks ready to rumble again after top-tens on his two most recent starts, so don’t rule out a successful title defence.
Simpson, twice beaten in RSM playoffs, is hoping it will be third time lucky and while recent form is nothing special, neither is this field.
Contenders are plentiful and victory for Brian Harman, Corey Conners, Joel Dahmen, Joaquin Niemann, Chris Kirk or Cam Smith would come as no surprise.
Aussie stars Adam Scott, Smith and Jason Day should go well as should South African aces Louis Oosthuizen, Dylan Fritelii and Brandon Grace. No Brit has ever won this but Justin Rose might change that if he’s solved the swing problem that cost him a Ryder Cup place and a good 2021 so far.. There’s still time to rectify that and he is a past US Open champion after all.
Preference though is for short-game wizard Cam Smith who began the new campaign with a solid 15th in Houston after ending the last one with a top-ten behind McIlroy in the CJ Cup.