The Future is Bright The Future is Dubai

By Tom AbbottNovember 20, 2007, 5:00 pm
Editors Note: Tom Abbott is the host of Golf Central UK. He will be filing a bi-weekly column on thegolfchannel.com with news, opinions and his inside knowledge of the European Tour.
 
Well, well, well, George OGrady really has thrown a cat amongst the pigeons with the announcement on Monday of the Dubai World Championship, the culmination of the inaugural Race for Dubai in 2009. Its the European Tours counter-punch to the PGA TOUR's FedExCup, and I think it brings a hefty blow.
 
The tournament, though, is more than just an event; this is the beginning of a very complex relationship with the tournaments sponsor, Leisurecorp, a division of Dubai World, a company controlled by the Government of Dubai. Not only will the tour end its season in the Middle East, but it will move its headquarters there, building what it calls a Centre of Excellence. The tours physio truck will be sponsored by Leisurecorp; furthermore, the two organizations will start a property company to develop new venues, something akin to TPC Courses but on a much bigger and grander scale. This is a huge step for the European Tour; it's OGradys legacy as Executive Director.
 
The tour will also revert back to the calendar year schedule; no more premature starts to the year in November. The Race for Dubai will begin in January 2009, possibly at the Dubai Desert Classic. The events in November and December that currently fall into the next calendar year schedule will either become special events, be reworked into the upcoming season or just fall back to the other co-sanctioning tour. The Volvo Masters is still up in the air. Volvo may decide to move it to another part of the schedule, and the field may be increased and not limited to the season-ending top 60 as it has in the past.
 
A lot of the talk is centered on the new season-ending event, a $10 million prize fund, and the $10 million bonus pool for the top 15 in the Race for Dubai (the old Order of Merit). The big question is: Will Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson be playing? At the moment the answer is no, they wouldnt have qualified. However, there are a few ways around this. Firstly Tiger plays two more events on the European Tour in 2008 than he did in 2007 and activates his European Tour membership. You see, Woods has only played nine or 10 events in each of the past couple of seasons, just below the minimum 11 to qualify for membership.
 
This is good news for both the PGA TOUR and European Tour players. Firstly, it keeps the publics attention on Woods being the best the PGA TOUR has to offer. Secondly, he earned enough money from those nine or 10 starts to capture the Order of Merit crown anyway, so by not being a member he gives the others a chance. In 2007 he would have taken the Order of Merit crown before we even arrived at Valderrama.
 
Also, the Dubai World Championship, like the Volvo Masters, offers four sponsors exemptions. I dont think this is a good idea because it cheapens the Race for Dubai; you want players to play on the European Tour throughout the season, not just in one event.
 
Another thing, and this will spark the most controversy among players, the minimum event requirement is lowered to nine or 10. This will not happen until at least after the next players meeting in Abu Dhabi next year. Personally, I think the tour should leave things the way they are and let Tiger find an extra couple of starts in Europe. He already has three WGC events and four majors on his schedule -- they all count -- then add the Dubai Desert Classic, the Dubai World Championship, perhaps the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and the HSBC World Match Play, and hes in. Wasnt too hard was it?
 
As for Mickelson or any other current non-European Tour member, I dont think they have the draw of Woods and with all due respect, does it really matter whether they are in the field?
 
Lastly, theres a money issue. The FedExCup pays an annuity. Its much larger than the Race for Dubai but the European Tour version will pay cash and players like that. Also, the Race for Dubai doesnt lock players into a playoff system.
 
Professionals golfers are lone rangers, independent beings who dont have a boss telling them what to do. They dont particularly enjoy Mr. Finchem instructing them to play the PGA TOUR Playoff events for the FedExCup. Nobody is telling them what to do in Dubai. Theyll play their normal schedule, hope for a good year, and then head for the pot of gold in the desert.
 
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.