European Tour Headache
The 10th DP World Tour Championship left more Race to Dubai questions than answers.
“WE DESIGNED THE GREEN IN A WAY THAT WILL ALMOST ALWAYS GUARANTEE THREE PUTTS UNLESS YOU LAND NEXT TO THE PIN.”
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.
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 .