To the uninitiated, the European Tour is often viewed as the younger sibling compared to the more popular and lucrative PGA Tour in America.
Europe’s biggest stars tend to navigate towards the States to reside and play tournaments because of the favourable climate and the staggering prize money on offer.
But this year’s change of the golf calendar has created more accessible playing opportunities for the European Tour and it has certainly capitalised with enhanced popularity and a thrilling climax to the season.
And after 46 events across 21 different countries over the last 12 months, the campaign finally draws to a close this weekend at Dubai’s Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The $3m first prize at the DP World Tour Championship grabs the attention of even the richest of professionals and finishing the year off as European number one is sure to be another added bonus.
What makes the narrative even more enticing is that five players are in with a shout of lifting the title come Sunday evening.
This year’s Race to Dubai has been fascinating to follow and has enjoyed much limelight since the PGA Tour season finished in Atlanta in August.
Danny Willett, winner in Dubai last November, set the tone for a sensational final stretch of the season with victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in September, his biggest win since the 2016 Masters.
Jon Rahm’s win in Spain, McIlroy’s triumph in Shanghai and Tyrrell Hatton’s recent success in Turkey all came with their respective positive stories.
However, it was Tommy Fleetwood’s sparkling win in Sun City on Sunday which perhaps added the most excitement to the Race to Dubai narrative.
The 28-year-old from Southport, a Race to Dubai winner in 2017, ended a 22-month drought to clinch victory at the Nedbank Challenge and now has the chance to secure a second Order of Merit title this weekend should he finish ahead of his other four challengers.
There are 2,000 points available for winning the tournament so, in theory, anyone in the top five has a chance of clinching that number one position, depending on where the leading protagonists finish.
Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger (4,802 points) heads the leaderboard and deserves to win based on his overall consistency this season. He was as low as 378 in the world in May and now sits on the brink of the top-20.
Incessant wrist problems curtailed his 2018 season, but the 34-year-old has stormed to career-best form, collecting victories in Denmark, Scotland and Italy this year.
An iron-man of this year’s European Tour, Wiesberger played a staggering 28 tournaments – 11 more than Fleetwood who sits in second place.
In the process, the Vienna native has climbed up to 23 in the world rankings and looks high on confidence ahead of the season-ending tournament this weekend.
His closest rivals in the race to the top spot are Fleetwood (4,079), Rahm (3,898), Shane Lowry (3,613) and Matt Fitzpatrick (3,320).
A resident of Arizona, Rahm has played in 12 tournaments, winning in Ireland and Spain while finishing second in Wentworth and Valderrama.
Should the 25-year-old gain the upper-hand on his rivals, it will be his second win in Dubai after sealing DP World Tour Championship glory in 2017.
Lowry, a crowd favourite in the Emirates, started the year in tremendous fashion, winning in Abu Dhabi in January and the Open Championship in July.
The Offaly man has sealed three top-15s since his crowning moment in Portrush, but expect him to shine in desert conditions this weekend.
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has been in sizzling form this campaign. Despite not being on the winners’ podium, the Sheffield man has shown his class to finish runner-up in Germany, Sweden and Italy.
Further down the rankings, McIlroy is sure to capture the imagination of the local crowd even though he is out of contention of lifting the Race to Dubai crown.
The Northern Irishman, ranked number two in the world, has returned to the peak of his powers, recording 18 top-10 finishes in 23 starts this year.
Four rounds in the UAE heat is mentally and physically draining, but whoever comes out on top as Race to Dubai champion will be thoroughly deserved.
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