Lee Westwood made European Tour history as pantomime villain Patrick Reed crumbled in Dubai. And while the system needs changing, it does add to the already wonderful drama, writes Alex Perry
There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes, and having a good old complain about the flawed Race to Dubai system.
It’s a debate as old as the year-long competition itself. A debate we’re reminded of every time the season-ending DP World Tour Championship rolls around.
How can someone who hasn’t even played in Europe be crowned European No 1?
In recent years it’s been Patrick Reed making the headlines. The honorary European Tour member shows up for a couple of pay cheques each year then heads to Dubai to boost his bank balance by a few more million.
This year he was joined – inexplicably, you might say – by Collin Morikawa in the spotlight as they both looked to become the first American player to win the Race to Dubai title. (And no, I don’t need reminding that Tiger Woods would have won the European Tour’s Order of Merit 48 years in a row if he had taken up full membership on this side of the Atlantic.)
Reed, the commentary team remind us every time he’s on screen, is a wonderful servant to the European Tour. There is no doubt he enjoys playing all around the world. He’s teed up everywhere from England to Australia, Hong Kong to Dubai.
But “wonderful servant”? Please. A quick flick through his record shows he’s played in 23 regular European Tour events in his entire career – five of which were DP World Tour Championships and two of which were the wallet-fattening Saudi International. And you can confidently assume he wouldn’t have played in any Scottish Opens had they not preceded a certain challenge for a Claret Jug.
Reed led the Race to Dubai at the start of the week having only a missed cut in Saudi Arabia and a tie for 3rd at Wentworth to show for it. The other points were picked up at two WGCs – one of which he won – and the three majors. He ended it in third.
At least Reed had set foot on European soil, I suppose. Before flying to Dubai, Morikawa had only left the US once for business purposes – the Mexico Championship, where Reed triumphed. A tie for 10th at Jumeirah Estates was enough to finish fifth in the Race to Dubai, largely thanks to his results in the WGCs and majors, including his breakthrough win at the PGA Championship.
So what’s the answer?
Well of course there should be a system that says players must play in at least X amount of regular European Tour events in order to be eligible for the Race to Dubai. But that significantly weakens the field and organisers won’t do anything to miss out on having a few more major champions in the field – even if it does just make the tournament a glorified version of Sports Personality of the Year.
It makes a complete mockery of it all when a player can go so close to becoming European No 1 when we’re not entirely convinced they would find the continent on a map.
Hopefully the PGA Tour’s takeov—sorry, “partnership” with the European Tour will now mean more players coming over from the US to compete. We’ll see.
But I can’t stay mad for too long. Like many Brits, there’s nothing I love more than a good moan about something that doesn’t really affect me. Plus it’s pantomime season and we all need a villain. Several times my phone lit up on Sunday alone with people telling me they hope Reed doesn’t win the Race to Dubai.
And it added just a little something extra to what was already a magnificent ending.to the strangest of European Tour seasons. The beauty, you might say, is in its flaws.
Race to Dubai drama
So why we were all busy booing and hissing in the Americans’ direction, Lee Westwood was quietly but efficiently piecing together a third successive round of 68 to move up into second and within touching distance of leader Matt Fitzpatrick.
And while Fitzpatrick clung on to win his second DP World Tour Championship and sixth European Tour title overall, all the drama was under the R2D column on the leaderboard.
Westwood, in the clubhouse at 14-under, needed to finish on his own in second to take the title. For Fitzpatrick to win it, he needed someone to tie for second alongside his compatriot.
Reed kept up his part for the bad guy deal, sticking in until the very end before two bogeys in the last three holes ended his chances. Sami Valimaki – the likely Rookie of the Year – finished bogey-par to end his chances. And when Viktor Hovland missed an eight-footer for birdie at the last, it meant only Laurie Canter – playing with Fitzpatrick in the final group – could thwart Westwood.
The Englishman, yet to break his European Tour duck, was tied with Westwood on the 17th tee, but a double-bogey five dropped him back to 12-under, and when his eagle attempt at 18 finished six feet short of the hole, Westwood could celebrate a third Harry Vardon Trophy success, having previously won in 2000 and 2009.
In the end Westwood pipped Fitzpatrick by just 17.8 points. For context, that’s about the same amount as finishing in the top 30 of the Mauritius Open. (It’s also about the distance in miles between where the two were born, if you’re looking for something irrelevant but interesting.)
For Westwood there was a little slice of history. At the age of 47 years, seven months and 20 days he is the oldest to top the European rankings.
Not only that, he joins Seve Ballesteros (1976, 1977, 1978, 1986, 1988, 1991), Sandy Lyle (1979, 1980, 1985), Colin Montgomerie (1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2005) and Rory McIlroy (2012, 2014, 2015) as the only players to win the Vardon on three or more occasions.
And to think he wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to tee it up having arrived in Dubai suffering from a bad back.
“At the start of the week, I had no expectations,” Westwood explained. “The lads in the physio unit have stretched me in places I didn’t think I had. They kept me going this week.”
The obvious question
In an emotional interview after his win at the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, Westwood was asked if he was thinking about the Ryder Cup, which at the time was still due to take place just eight months later. Westwood said he was “not sure [he] could take any more Ryder Cups”, adding that he “was done as a player in the Ryder Cup”.
Now it’s a very different outlook as he looks to make an 11th and final appearance on the team before he becomes the likely successor to Padraig Harrington as captain in 2023.
“I’d love to play again, obviously,” he said on Sunday. “It beats watching.
“But if I do qualify for the team then I’m clearly good enough. That’s the way I’m going to play it.
“I’m not going to say it’s one of my goals for next year because you should never make the Ryder Cup one of your goals. But I could see it happening.”
The masked major champion
The US Women’s Open finished on Monday after Sunday’s play was completely wiped out.
And what a final day it was. Hinako Shibuno – the 2019 Women’s British Open champion – led for a bit, then Amy Olson led for a bit, and World No 1 Jin Young Ko made a late push. But in the end it was wildcard A Lim Kim – playing in her first event in the US – who came from five shots back to take the biggest prize in women’s golf.
She doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! (Though she will have by the time you read this.)
The South Korean star, who plays her golf on the KLPGA in her homeland, birdied the the last three holes to take a one-shot lead into the clubhouse. Then she just sat back and watched as her challengers fell away.
Women’s golf just loves a surprise major winner. Kim began the week as the World No 94, having just broken into the top 100 a few weeks ago, and who can forget Sofia Popov winning at Royal Troon in the summer as the World No 304? And last year Shibuno herself made the whole world fall in love with her
Also, a huge shout out to Olson, who not only carried on playing but gave herself a shot at winning just 24 hours after learning of the death of her father-in-law.
Anyway, I am absolutely all in on December majors. What a treat. Same again next year?
- Related: What’s in Kim’s bag?
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