Race to Dubai in hands of Molinari and other talking points ahead of DPWTC

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Ryder Cup partners and best friends Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood are the only players who can win the Race to Dubai title at Jumeirah Golf Estates this weekend.

With Molinari holding a commanding 1,025,166 lead in the rankings, Fleetwood needs to win the DP World Tour Championship and the Italian to finish outside the top five to have any chance of retaining his European number one status.

Here, we look at the key talking points ahead of the tournament.

Magnificent Molinari

The Italian has taken his game to a different level this season, with three tournament wins, including a first major at the Open Championship in July.

To add to his stellar season, he also made history by becoming the first European to win all five matches at the Ryder Cup last month.

With formidable finishes of 13-16-4-4-17 on the Earth course since 2013, it looks highly-likely the 36-year-old will cap off the finest year of his 14-year professional career and clinch a maiden Order of Merit title.

Of course, Fleetwood is a class act but his chances of upsetting Molinari in the battle to become European number one looks slim.

Uphill task for Fleetwood

Fleetwood was in Molinari’s position last year and almost lost out to world number two Justin Rose, who held a one shot lead with seven holes to play.

Rose went on to bogey three of the next five holes and needed to eagle the 18th to beat Fleetwood, but his long-range attempt veered left and the title was Fleetwood’s by a slender 58,821 points.

Even if the 27-year-old does not win the DP World Tour Championship this weekend, he has still enjoyed a majestic season, including a successful title defence at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and two runners-up finishes at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and US Open – the latter of saw him close with a record-equalling 63 to finish one shot behind winner Brooks Koepka – and eight other top-10s.

The Southport native is fast becoming the most likable player in the game and can further enhance his stardom with a solid finish in Dubai this weekend.

What next for McIlroy?

The Northern Irishman announced on Tuesday that he is set to give up his European Tour membership in 2019 to focus on PGA Tour events.

The 29-year-old, who is a three-time Race to Dubai champion, will spend most of his time in America because the Players Championship and PGA Championship have been brought forward to March and May respectively.

As it stands, McIlroy has only two European Tour events on his schedule for next season and if he sticks to this, it would eliminate him from Ryder Cup captaincy discussion in the future as per a new tour ruling.

The Northern Irishman heads into the tournament this week on the back of one tournament win, three runners-up, three top-five and three top-10 finishes this season.

Although he has no chance of winning the Order of Merit crown for the fourth title, his impeccable 3-5-11-1-5-2-1-9 record at Jumeirah Golf Estates proves he could be a serious contender on the final round come Sunday.

Westwood returns to form

The Englishman’s stunning win at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa last week saw him return to the winners enclosure for the first time in four years.

The 45-year-old finished the event on 15 under par, three strokes clear of second place Sergio Garcia, to seal his first win since the Malaysian Open in April 2014.

It was also his first victory achieved without caddie Billy Foster on the bag, the pair having split recently after a 10-year association together.

Instead Westwood’s girlfriend fulfilled the role, having done so when the Nottingham native was beaten in a four-way play-off for the Made in Denmark tournament in September.

In fact, Westwood looks revitalised with the change and will undoubtedly add a pep in his step as he looks to finish his season on a high this weekend.

His best ever result at Jumeirah Golf Estates was a win back in 2009. Can this year’s Ryder Cup vice-captain replicate that sparkling form?

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DP World Tour Championship Thursday times: Molinari and Fleetwood to tee off last

Sport360 staff 10:27 14/11/2018
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Race to Dubai favourite Francesco Molinari tees off alongside Tommy Fleetwood as the DP World Tour Championship gets underway at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Thursday.

Here’s the groups and UAE tee times for the first round.

07:40 Robert Rock, Matthew Southgate

07:50 Hideto Tanihara (Jpn), Joakim Lagergren (Swe)

08:00 Lee Slattery, Darren Fichardt (Rsa)

08:10 Joost Luiten (Ned), Dean Burmester (Rsa)

08:20 Aaron Rai, Paul Dunne

08:30 Danny Willett, Chris Paisley

08:40 Sam Horsfield, Martin Kaymer (Ger)

08:50 Tom Lewis, Marcus Kinhult (Swe)

09:00 Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra), Ashun Wu (Chn)

09:10 Wade Ormsby (Aus), Jordan Smith

09:25 Shane Lowry, Benjamin Hebert (Fra)

09:35 Mikko Korhonen (Fij), Henrik Stenson (Swe)

09:45 Dylan Frittelli (Rsa), Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa)

09:55 Branden Grace (Rsa), Ian Poulter

10:05 Andrea Pavan (Ita), Ross Fisher

10:15 Thomas Detry (Bel), Andy Sullivan

10:25 Chris Wood, Alexander Levy (Fra)

10:35 Thomas Pieters (Bel), Shubhankar Sharma (Ind)

10:45 Adrian Otaegui (Spa), Jorge Campillo (Spa)

10:55 Brandon Stone (Rsa), Matthew Fitzpatrick

11:10 Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa), Ryan Fox (Nzl)

11:20 Matt Wallace, Alexander Bjork (Swe)

11:30 Sergio Garcia (Spa), Lee Westwood

11:40 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Russell Knox

11:50 Jon Rahm (Spa), Tyrrell Hatton

12:00 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den), Eddie Pepperell

12:10 Haotong Li (Chn), Alex Noren (Swe)

12:20 Thorbjorn Olesen (Den), Rory McIlroy

12:30 Xander Schauffele (USA), Patrick Reed (USA)

12:40 Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari (Ita)

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Francesco Molinari, Tommy Fleetwood and three others to watch at the DP World Tour Championships

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Ahead of the DP World Tour Championship that starts on Thursday, we look at five star players set to shine.

Who do you think will win?

Let us know on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

FRANCESCO MOLINARI

World ranking: 6

Race to Dubai position: 1

Last five DPWTC results: 13-16-4-4-17

Best finishes in 2018: Winner (BMW PGA Championship, Quicken Loans National, Open Championship), Second (John Deere Classic, Italian Open)

Top-10s in 2018: 2

The Italian has taken his game to a different level in 2018, with three tournament wins, including a first major at the Open Championship. He also made history by becoming first European to win all five matches at the Ryder Cup last month. The 36-year-old will be favourite to hold on to his Race to Dubai position and his crisp iron-play is a huge advantage on this course.

TOMMY FLEETWOOD

World ranking: 10

Race to Dubai position: 2

Last five DPWTC results: 37-12-53-9-21

Best finishes in 2018: Winner (Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship), Second (Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, US Open)

Top-10s in 2018: 8

The Englishman opened his year with a superb win at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and has looked sublime since. His record-equalling round of 63 to finish a shot behind Brooks Koepka at the US Open is among his stand-out displays this season. Needs to win the DP World Tour Championship to have a chance of being crowned European number one again.

RORY MCILROY

World ranking: 7

Race to Dubai position: 6

Last five DPWTC results: 5-2-1-9-DNP

Best finishes in 2018: Winner (Arnold Palmer Invitational), Second (Dubai Desert Classic, BMW PGA Championship, Open Championship)

Top-10s in 2018: 6

The 2015 champion has the ability to light up the big stage, but has not tasted major success in over four years. In 28 career rounds at the Earth course, his worst score is an even-par 72. Having finished in a tie for 21st at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa last week, the 29-year-old arrives in Dubai aiming to finish his season on a high. Expect his driver to continue to cause mayhem and help him to card some more low scores.

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PATRICK REED

World ranking: 17

Race to Dubai position: 4

Last five DPWTC results: DNP-DNP-10-DNP-10

Best finishes in 2018: Winner (Masters), Second (Valspar Championship)

Top-10s in 2018: 6

A tie for seventh place finish in the HSBC Champions two weeks ago added some positivity to what has been a mixed season for the 28-year-old. Despite winning the Masters and placing fourth at the US Open, Reed managed just two other top-10 finishes since June. But like he has done in previous years, expect the American to fight tooth and nail until the last putt has dropped. Has the vast array of skills to improve on his two previous top-10 finishes in Dubai.

JON RAHM

World ranking: 8

Race to Dubai position: 11

Last five DPWTC results: DNP-DNP-DNP-DNP-1

Best finishes in 2018: Winner (CareerBuilder Challenge, Open de Espana), Second (Sentry Tournament of Champions)

Top-10s in 2018: 6

The 24-year-old clinched wins at the CareerBuilder Challenge and Spanish Open earlier this year as well as top-four finishes at the Masters and PGA Championship. His 19-under par 269 en route to lifting the DP World Tour Championship title in 2017 shows he has form around the Earth course. Expect a strong title defence from the Spaniard, who finished in a tie for 22nd in Shanghai two weeks ago.

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