That has at least one player – make that one very prominent player – calling for change.
“This week is a little bit more of an anticlimax than the European Tour would probably want,” world No. 2 Luke Donald told reporters Tuesday. “The tour may want to think about adding a scenario where that doesn’t happen and incorporate either a playoff system or some other way to make sure that it goes down to the wire. I think that would make it more exciting.”
This debate is nothing new, of course.
When the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup was first implemented, Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh both clinched the $10 million bonus before the season-ending Tour Championship. It took a few years to tweak the format to its current iteration, which dictates that if any of the top five players on the points list heading to East Lake win there, they also win the FedEx Cup. Some would argue that tweaks still need to be made.
In the European Tour’s case, McIlroy wrapped up the yearlong race with a third-place finish two weeks ago at The Barclays Singapore Open. Critics of the current format will point out that McIlroy won only one European Tour event this season, and that was the PGA Championship. Branden Grace, by way of comparison, won four times on the circuit and still sits sixth in the Race to Dubai. No. 2 Peter Hanson was a two-time winner in 2012.
“I think the format is good. You know, it’s a season-long race; that’s the way it is,” McIlroy told reporters. “Lucky for me, I’ve earned enough money to not make it matter in the last tournament. I guess it is a bit of an anticlimax this week, but I would love to pick up both of those trophies on Sunday.”
The European Tour has plenty of options to spice up its closing stretch. It could choose to adopt a FedEx Cup-style playoff system to end the season, but it remains unlikely that even then it would receive full participation from its members. After all, there are already several options for players to chase appearance fees this time of year, and many will opt for rest after a busy fall that includes the FedEx Cup playoffs and Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup. They need a break, somewhere.
Or European Tour officials could announce that, like the FedEx Cup finale, if any of the top three or five players on the Order of Merit win the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, they would also capture the yearlong Race to Dubai (and hefty bonus). That would create interest throughout.
Instead, the tour is left with an anticlimactic finale at a time of year when mainstream interest in the sport has already begun to wane.
“With the size of the prize fund this week, it was very hard to see this happening. But he has had a phenomenal year,” European Tour CEO George O’Grady told reporters. “It’s easier to understand this than the FedEx system in America, when you all start level (with the money-list reset) and I won’t immediately be giving into panic measures.
“We’ll announce on Sunday how we do next season, and there will be a more limited field at the end of the year in Turkey and China with greater incentives. But the basic concept of a money-list race will remain the same.”
You can’t blame McIlroy, the sport’s second-biggest draw. Though he is admittedly exhausted after a long season, McIlroy has continued to support the tour by playing four of the past five events. (The lone exemption, of course, was the WGC-HSBC Champions, and his absence there was publicly criticized by tournament officials.) That late-season push has boosted his yearly earnings to €3,696,597 ($4,736,888) – or, more importantly, enough to clinch the title with two events remaining. Like Donald a year ago, McIlroy won the money title on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Last year I felt like I had a target on my back, so thanks, Rory, for making my achievement look ordinary,” said Donald, who enters this week No. 8 in the Race to Dubai. “He has made it look pretty easy. His consistency was unmatched by anyone.”