Mon, Dec 9, 2019

No golf in a given week on the PGA Tour is roughly equivalent to seeing Halley’s Comet (don’t fact-check me there), but it does open the door for a different league and a wider variety of players to watch.

Primarily, the European Tour will take a more central role in the world of golf this week as it holds the Turkish Airlines Open starting on Thursday. It’s one of the final three events of the season, and all three tournaments — Turkish Airlines Open, Nedbank Golf Challenge and DP World Tour Championship — are part of the European Tour’s prestigious Rolex Series.

The big one is the World Tour Championship the week before Thanksgiving. It will determine this year’s Race to Dubai champion. That list is a who’s who of European golfers dating back to the early 1970s. 

The Race to Dubai works a lot like the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup worked before 2019 in that you don’t have to win the final event to win the year-long trophy (now you do on the PGA Tour). For example: Danny Willett won the World Tour Championship last year, but Francesco Molinari won the Race to Dubai for his season-long work. Anyway, look at this mega-impressive list of Race to Dubai champs from the last 10 years.

  • 2018: Francesco Molinari
  • 2017: Tommy Fleetwood
  • 2016: Henrik Stenson
  • 2015: Rory McIlroy
  • 2014: Rory McIlroy
  • 2013: Henrik Stenson
  • 2012: Rory McIlroy
  • 2011: Luke Donald
  • 2010: Martin Kaymer
  • 2009: Lee Westwood

The current standings look like this.

  1. Bernd Wiesberger (4,240 points)
  2. Jon Rahm (3,898)
  3. Shane Lowry (3,589)
  4. Matthew Fitzpatrick (3,135)
  5. Rory McIlroy (2,763)
  6. Matt Wallace (2,649)
  7. Tommy Fleetwood (2,414)
  8. Louis Oosthuizen (2,357)
  9. Robert Macintyre (2,099)
  10. Erik Van Rooyen (1,943)

I wonder how many golf fans know Bernd Wiesberger currently leads the European Tour’s version of the FedEx Cup. Probably not many. The rest of the top five makes sense, but Wiesberger? He’s had an amazing year with wins at the Italian Open, Scottish Open and Made in Denmark. Those first two are Rolex Series events and worth a load of points.

He can definitely be caught though. With the caliber of player behind him and how many points are up for grabs in Turkey, South Africa and the UAE over the next three weeks, the race to the end is going to be tight and fascinating. 

Rolex Series points for the winner of these events go from 1,500 this week to 1,665 next to 2,000 at the finale in Dubai. Points for second, third, fourth and so on go down from those marks. That means Wiesberger’s 350-point lead over Rahm is not insurmountable and even somebody like Oosthuizen, who is 1,900 points behind Wiesberger, has a legit shot if he wins one of these tournaments.

Still, this is Wiesberger’s title to lose. After a great year, he’s in the driver’s seat. And his most feared opponent at the moment — Rory McIlroy — won’t turn up again until Dubai where he could potentially win those 2,000 points by winning that event. By then though, Wiesberger might be too far ahead, and it might be too little, too late for what would be McIlroy’s fourth title in eight years.

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