Euro­pean Tour Headache

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents - BY KENT GRAY

The 10th DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship left more Race to Dubai ques­tions than an­swers.


Ire­ally liked the pre­vi­ous 2nd hole at JA The Re­sort Golf Course, a down­hill par 3. In my mind, par-3’s with changes in el­e­va­tion are al­ways spec­tac­u­lar. Un­for­tu­nately, we could not repli­cate those el­e­va­tion changes with this new No.3 but we have cre­ated a small drop and strongly de­fended the green to avoid lucky tops.

We en­larged and elon­gated the green to en­sure that most golfers can hit the “dance floor” but the con­tour­ing of the green it­self will not pro­duce an easy shot if you have a long up­wards or down­wards putt to reach the pin. In fact, we de­signed the green in a way that will al­most al­ways guar­an­tee three putts un­less you land next to the pin in the first place.

Club se­lec­tion and swing speed will be im­per­a­tive to land any­where near the flag; this hole will def­i­nitely be easy to play but very hard to score. It’s also a hole where you’ll be able to test your nerves as the new ho­tel’s ter­race is just a few me­tres away from the tees. Good luck!

LIKE AN F1 DRIVER with a car run­ning on fumes on the last lap of the cham­pi­onship, Francesco Moli­nari was try­ing des­per­ately to ig­nore all the ti­tle per­mu­ta­tions em­a­nat­ing from the pits (read me­dia cen­tre) and sum­mon one last surge in this Race to Dubai sea­son. For­tu­nately for the 36-year-old Ital­ian, Tommy Fleet­wood mis­fired first on Earth, a Satur­day 74 end­ing the English­man’s chances of tak­ing the che­quered flag at the 10th DP World Tour Cham­pi­onship and with it, any hope of re­peat­ing as Euro­pean No.1. Fleet­wood clearly wasn’t driv­ing to team or­ders at Jumeirah Golf Es­tates de­spite their now-fa­bled ‘Moli­wood’ Ryder Cup bro­mance height­en­ing the sea­son-de­cid­ing nar­ra­tive. But if he had to re­lin­quish the Harry Var­don tro­phy, do­ing so to his best pal on tour wasn’t to­tally un­palat­able, even if fast-fin­ish­ing Pa­trick Reed ul­ti­mately snuck be­tween the friends on the fi­nal 2017-18 sea­son podium.

Sure, Moli­nari splut­tered across the line in a share of 26th place at JGE. But the Claret Jug, BMW PGA Cham­pi­onship, a maiden PGA Tour ti­tle and his his­toric five-for-five Ryder Cup record was an aw­ful lot of emo­tional bag­gage to carry on this fi­nal, four-lap cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of Earth. It was Moli­nari’s Race to Dubai to lose and he de­servedly kept his nose in front af­ter fin­ish­ing just four shots and 10 places be­neath Fleet­wood.

For Danny Wil­lett, mean­while, there was the same level of sat­is­fac­tion but an even more in­tense sense of re­lief as he ended a 953-day drought since his Masters break­through at Au­gusta Na­tional three Aprils pre­vi­ously. If Moli­nari had been pi­lot­ing a high-per­for­mance (pre­sum­ably Fer­rari) race­car all sea­son, Wil­lett had been stuck on a rick­ety old theme park ride for the best part of 30 months. There were times when ev­ery­one won­dered if he’d fall off the emo­tional roller­coaster; he came to de­spise golf so much and was pop­ping so many painkillers to get through each day there were even mo­ments when he con­sid­ered dis­em­bark­ing the game vol­un­tar­ily. Wil­lett could surely con­sole him­self with the fact he’d go out wear­ing a green jacket on that aching back of his.

Mer­ci­fully, em­bers of hope emerged when he linked with Sean Fo­ley, Tiger’s old swing coach, at the 2017 PGA Cham­pi­onship and to­gether they de­vised a way to play­pain free. But even so, it was a mighty respite to sur­vive a jit­tery Sun­day at JGE, his -18, 270 ag­gre­gate even­tu­ally hold­ing off Reed by two strokes.

Both Moli­nari and Wil­lett thor­oughly de­serve their place in DPWTC lore but theirs per­haps won’t be the defin­ing sto­ry­line from the sea­son decider.

mcil­roy’s bomb­shell

Rory McIl­roy stole that be­fore a ball had been struck in anger at JGE, an­nounc­ing on the Tues­day that he might play just two “pure” Euro­pean Tour events out­side the ma­jors and WGC events next sea­son.

“I guess my big thing is I want to play against the strong­est fields week in, week out, and for the most part of the sea­son that is in Amer­ica,” the 29-year- old North­ern Ir­ish­man said.

The fall­out was as swift and emo­tion­ally charged, as much as McIl­roy, a green jacket shy of the cov­eted ca­reer-grand slam, in­sisted it was all about try­ing to halt a ma­jor-less run dat­ing back to the 2014 PGA Cham­pi­onship.

There was sym­pa­thy in some quar­ters that hinted at an un­der­ly­ing frus­tra­tion at the too- close-to-home source of short­fall fund­ing for the el­e­va­tion of a close-to­home event to re­place the Open de France on the elite, eight- event Rolex Se­ries. Par­tic­u­larly as Amer­i­can stars were be­ing lured with ap­pear­ance fees at the ex­pense of reg­u­lar big-name sup­port­ers of the Euro­pean Tour like McIl­roy.

It was matched with in­credulity else­where at a de­ci­sion that will see McIl­roy by­pass Abu Dhabi and Dubai by choice in Jan­uary for the first time since turn­ing pro­fes­sional and 2007, and po­ten­tially even miss his home Open – an event his foun­da­tion has sup­ported the past three sea­sons.

McIl­roy soft­ened his stance in his next, some­times terse run-in with the me­dia as the out­cry con­tin­ued: “Look, ev­ery­one has to look out for them­selves and next year I’m look­ing out for me. At the same time…I didn’t say that it was a def­i­nite. It’s up in the air. I don’t have to make a de­ci­sion till May. We’ll see how it goes.” In­deed. But re­mem­ber this re­tort too. “If it were to be that I don’t ful­fill my mem­ber­ship next year, it is not a Ryder Cup year so it is not the end of the world.”

It’s un­likely the Euro­pean Tour hier­ar­chy will see it that way, de­spite chief Keith Pel­ley best ef­forts to down­play the sit­u­a­tion on Dubai Eye 103.8 after­wards.

“It is a priv­i­lege, any­time that Rory plays in any one of our tour­na­ments, it’s a great cel­e­bra­tion. He’s an iconic player, a mas­sively global celebrity, not just in golf and in sport, but he is a celebrity. We have very few world- class celebri­ties like Rory.

“And right now, Rory is not play­ing at the level he would like to play and is ac­cus­tomed to play­ing at and my com­ment to Rory is, you do ev­ery­thing you pos­si­bly can to get back to where you want to be in the world of pro­fes­sional golf, and that is No.1 and win­ning ma­jors, and the rest will take care of it­self.”

Time will tell if McIl­roy fol­lows through but there are deeper is­sues at play here. Justin Rose and fel­low Ryder Cup­per Paul

“i’ ve won some pretty big ones, and ob­vi­ously au­gusta is al­ways go­ing to be spe­cial. but this, com­ing back af­ter ev­ery­thing that’ s hap­pened, is go­ing togo down in the his­tory books as one of the most pleas­ing .” — Danny Wil­lett

Casey were con­spic­u­ous by their late ab­sence from JGE and McIl­roy could well be an­other big name to skip the fi­nale next sea­son. How long be­fore spon­sors, me­dia and fans do the same as what is meant to be the tour’s show­case fi­nale? It’s not much of a show when the case for the big­gest names to turn up isn’t ut­terly com­pelling.

ryder cup ram­i­fi­ca­tions

It’s in­com­pre­hen­si­ble to think the cur­rent reg­u­la­tion that pre­vents any player who re­scinds their an­nual mem­ber­ship re­quire­ments (four events out­side the ma­jors and WGCs) won’t con­ve­niently be for­got­ten when McIl­roy in­evitably puts his name for­ward to be a Ryder Cup cap­tain in the fu­ture.

As McIl­roy said: “It’s 20 years away” and by then by­gones will surely be by­gones.

But there is an im­me­di­ate is­sue forced by the sched­ul­ing shakeup on both sides of the At­lantic thanks to the PGA Cham­pi­onship, tra­di­tion­ally the year’s fi­nal ma­jor, shift­ing from Au­gust to May with The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship re­vert­ing to March. It means the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup play­offs will now be in Au­gust, a month ear­lier, and has seen the Euro­pean Tour’s flag­ship BMW PGA Cham­pi­onship move to Septem­ber rather than May. It’s all start­ing to feel like player power will force that long over­due World Tour.

“The way the sched­ule has worked for next year it is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent for a lot of guys,” McIl­roy said. ”I think ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be so con­densed be­tween March and Au­gust so that’s why I’m go­ing to be tak­ing quite a big off­sea­son to get my­self ready.”

That’s an alarm for pro­mot­ers of Euro­pean Tour events be­fore the Ir­ish-Scot­tishOpen Cham­pi­onship linksland tre­ble in July and par­tic­u­larly so for the early sea­son Desert Swing events that have tra­di­tion­ally at­tracted qual­ity fields.

Dustin Johnson and Brooks Keopka have been lured to Abu Dhabi cour­tesy of healthy ap­pear­ance fees but Rose has al­ready sig­nalled a re­duced sched­ule as he looks to add to his sole ma­jor win at Me­rion at the 2013 U.S. Open.

Thank­fully it’s not all one-way traf­fic with Reed, des­per­ate to win out­side the U.S., sig­nalling his in­tent to go one bet­ter and eclipse Moli­nari as Euro­pean No.1 next sea­son. WGC-HSBC Cham­pi­ons win­ner and Amer­i­can Ryder Cup­per-in-wait­ing Xan­der Schauf­fele is an­other set to in­crease his pres­ence in Europe next sea­son af­ter fin­ish­ing fourth in the 2017-18 R2D rank­ings.

The Euro­pean Tour will rum­ble on and the Desert Swing will con­tinue to box above its weight in terms of star sign­ings. But the im­pact of the first three ma­jors of the year now be­ing in the U.S. is al­ready be­ing felt. McIl­roy might not visit the Mid­dle East at all in 2019 and that is a prece­dent that will en­sure his JGE an­nounce­ment will be re­vis­ited over and over in the com­ing sea­son. McIl­roy is hon­est and should be com­mended for be­ing so. The prob­lem is, for the Euro­pean Tour at least, his truth is re­ally start­ing to hurt.

“look, ev­ery­one has to look out for them­selves and next year i’ m look­ing out for me.” — Rory McIl­roy

No. 3 Sta­ble Edge Par-3, 143 yards Stroke 17/18

all eyes: w i l l e t t p i tches to­wards the 18th green to s e al a s atur­day 6 8 , a s c o r e h e ’ d re­peat i n t h e f i n a l round

on the run: rory mcil­roy might not pl ay in the mid­dle east at a l l i n 2 0 1 9 .

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