The curtain is slowly drawing to a close on 2017, and while we can prepare for the dizzying onslaught of Christmas and the New Year period, the European Tour’s premium golfers can finally go home and put their feet up after a long old year.
But there is one assignment left for the Tour; and it just so happens to be one of the most prestigious.
For the past 11 months or so ET members have been battling it out to win points towards the Race to Dubai standings, and now that effort comes home to roost courtesy of the season finale: the DP World Tour Championship, played at the Jumeirah Estates in Dubai.
The top 60 in the standings are heading to the 30° climes of the Middle East – nice work if you can get it, and while the vast majority of the field are simply interested in finishing inside the top 10 of the R2D leaderboard – and thus earn themselves a tidy bonus, for three players the possibly of topping the Race to Dubai ladder remains very real.
The fate of the title is in Tommy Fleetwood’s hands, ultimately. He’s currently ranked number one and will be crowned Race to Dubai champion as long as he betters the result of Justin Rose – oh, and Sergio Garcia does not win.
Rose, a winner of two recent tournaments, can still be crowned champion if he wins the DP World Tour Championship or finishes second; assuming Fleetwood finishes third or lower.
And then Garcia, with whom Rose enjoyed a fantastic ding-dong battle at the Masters of Augusta, could also triumph should Fleetwood finish outside the top 20 and Rose finishes no better than fifth – the Spaniard would need to win the tournament, however.
So rather than a slow and pointless winding down period, things look set to get rather exciting this week in Dubai. But where is the smart money going?
The Market Leaders
It will come as no surprise to learn that Rose (7/1) and Garcia (12/1) head the betting, and a repeat of their epic Augusta battle is not out of the question.
But there are plenty of players in this field who will have something to say about that, not least the outstanding Jon Rahm (12/1), who makes his tournament debut this week, plus of course Fleetwood himself (25/1) and last week’s Nedbank Challenge winner, Branden Grace (16/1).
Ironically, it’s the defending champion, Matt Fitzpatrick (18/1), who holds the most appeal at these prices.
He’s finished inside the top-20 in each of his last seven starts, and with three titles to his name there is no need to question his credentials in the heat of battle. Indeed, he overcame Tyrrell Hatton – another fine young English player – in a toe-to-toe battle here 12 months ago.
The Sheffield ace ranked inside the top-10 for the ball-striking stats at the Nedbank Challenge and also for Putts per Round at the Turkish Airlines Open, which hints that his all-round game is in great shape – perfect timing ahead of the defence of his World Tour crown.
The Next Rung
By the sheer nature of the event, this is a field stacked with potential winners.
Francesco Molinari played the golf of the gods at the Nedbank Challenge on Saturday, which suggests his best form isn’t far away, while the likes of Bernd Wiesberger, Joost Luiten and Charl Schwartzel are all proven winners.
Victor Dubuisson led in South African for much of the tournament, while Martin Kaymer – the two-time major winner – needs little introduction.
And at this point we’ve not even mentioned the prolific Alex Noren, or the outstanding Patrick Reed.
But arguably trumping them all is Thomas Pieters (40/1), who really is a rare talent at his very best.
Th Belgian was the standout player in Europe’s Ryder Cup effort at the tail-end of last year, and he followed up with a supremely impressive fourth at The Masters.
It’s not been a vintage few months since, but the insinuation of his eleventh place finish at the Turkish Airlines Open a fortnight ago is that he is rediscovering his best form.
If he finds that this week – and remember, he loves desert golf – then Pieters’ 40/1 price will look very generous indeed.
This is only a select 60-man field remember, so players towards the bottom of the market aren’t priced at what we might term value odds.
But if you can grab a slice of the 150/1 about Haydn Porteous then you might just be on to something.
The South African won the Czech Masters in the summer, and has been on a run of fine form ever since. He’s actually been inside the top-five in each of his last three starts at the 18-hole mark, and if he can continue that form for the whole event then he could deliver a huge each way return.
His putting – Porteous ranked second for Putts per Round at the Nedbank Challenge – doesn’t look like it will let him down, so why not give the big man a ty this week.