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It's here; the big Dubai finale
By Neville Leck Last updated: 20th November 2012
All of its big guns will be there when the European Tour's Race to Dubai reaches its final climax at the DP World Tour Championship this week.
And that includes world number one Rory McIlroy, favourite son of this week's Dubai host, the Jumeriah Golf Estate, and already the Tour's unassailable money winner.
After an extraordinary year that included a second major win at the USPGA Championship, McIlroy has looked decidedly weary and unfocussed in recent weeks and while he will end the season as only the second man after Luke Donald to win the Money List races on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year, there is certainly no guarantee that he'll win the tournament in Dubai come Sunday.
That's because he'll have to be at his best to top the elite field of 57 players ranged against him.
After 44 tournaments in 24 countries, the limited field, made up of tournament winners and the Tours highest earners. is hugely talented and highly ambitious.
For starters, along with McIlroy, it includes four other ranking stars currently positioned among the world's top 10, these being Luke Donald, who this week leapfrogged Tiger Woods into second place on the rankings list, world number four Lee Westwood, number six Louis Oosthuizen and number seven Justin Rose.
They in turn have been joined by the other members of Jose Maria Olazabal's 2012 triumphant Ryder Cup team who came back in the final day singles in September to edge the Americans in their own back yard, some of these men being Ian Poulter, the stand-out hero of his team, Belgium bomber Nicolas Colsaerts, the world's consistently longest hitter this year, Sergio Garcia, who, most recently has tended to reserve his best for late in the season, and Peter Hanson, one of Europe's hottest players during the past month or so - the Swede have won the KLM Open just weeks ahead of the Ryder Cup and the BMW Masters late last month.
Henrik Stenson, who has been almost invisible for the past couple of years, is another Swede who seems to have found some late form. He came in from the cold where he has been winless for five years to win last week's South African Open.
It was perhaps somewhat ironic that in the very same tournament, South African young gun Brandon Grace, the Tour's only four-time winner this year, finished way down the field in 69th place - a factor that doesn't bode well for him at the Jumeriah Golf Estate's Greg Norman-designed Earth Course this week.
Coming out of the European Tour's Q-School at the start of this season, and then, from out of the blue, winning four Tournaments, including the coveted Volvo double - The Volvo Champions and the Volvo China Open - and placing sixth behind McIlroy, Hanson, Rose, Oosthuizen and Poulter in the Race To Dubai ahead of this week's Grand Finale, is an outstanding achievement by any standards. It would be a pity if he is unable to lift his game again one final time before taking his Christmas break, for keeping himself afloat in the top 10 this week will be important.
Apart from the hefty US$8million prize fund, an additional US$3.75million Bonus Pool will be awarded to the Race to Dubai's top ten money winners at the tournament's end on Sunday.
McIlroy has already won the race to Dubai. That's done and dusted. But theoretically, 34 of the 57 players in the field still have a chance of a Top 10 finish and a share the Bonus Pool.
Outsiders with late-season form who look well placed to steam into the Bonus Pool could include Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, the Tour's youngest Tournament winner who was looking pretty hot again after a quietish season when he held of the more experienced Oosthuizen to win the Barclays Singapore Open two weeks ago.
He is in 13th place on the Race to Dubai standings right now.
At the other end of the scale you could say the same about cigar-puffing Spanish veteran Jose Angel Jimenez who, on Sunday, won the UBS Hong Kong Open for the third time and, only weeks away from his 49th birthday, set a new record for the Tour's oldest winner .
Jimenez is currently in 29th place, sandwiched between Charl Schwartzel and Martin Kaymer.
Mannassero's fourth-place finish behind Jimenez in Hong Kong made it clear that his Singapore victory was no flash in the pan and tended to indicate that we are going to see a lot more of the former world number one amateur. Even though he is not yet 20, has already been able to add three European Tour titles to the British Amateur crown he won aged 16.
We've looked at the field's highest-listed players on both the World Rankings list and the Race To Dubai standings. We have also taken note of the Ryder Cup stars who'll be teeing off on Thursday and of those who have been the hottest players in the past month or two.
Another category that might be worth singling out is the one listing this year's multiple Tour winners.
Besides Grace, we note that Hanson, Oosthuizen, Scottish veteran Paul Lawrie and Austrian young gun Bernd Wiesberger are all bidding to take home their third European Tour titles this year - and the $1.33 million that will go with it.
In the meantime, how does McIlroy, the man they will all have to beat, feel about his chances?
"Obviously Hong Kong (where he missed the cut) wasn't the week that I wanted, but at least it gave me the chance get to Dubai a bit earlier and work on a few things.
"I definitely needed to work on my putting a little bit. I feel like I'm still hitting the ball well, I just haven't holed enough putts over the past two weeks. I was maybe also a little bit tired, mentally and physically.
"I think if I was completely fresh, I wouldn't have made the mistakes I did in Hong Kong last week. So in some ways, even though I obviously wanted to (successfully) defend my title there, maybe having the weekend off worked out for the best, as it gave me the chance to rest up and recharge the batteries.
"It's already been an amazing season, and hopefully I can round it off in style in Dubai this week."
We'll have to wait and see, but what ever happens, it's pretty certain that the golfing world is in for some fireworks before the increasingly influential European Tour brings down the curtain on the 2012 season on Sunday.
THE RACE TO DUBAI'S TOP 20
The current Race To Dubai Top 20 with their earnings to date are:
1 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) €3 696 597
2 Peter Hanson (Swe) €2 642 524
3 Justin Rose (Eng) €2 566 323
4 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) €2 546 870
5 Ian Poulter (Eng) €2 270 851
6 Branden Grace (Rsa) €2 084 461
7 Francesco Molinari (Ita) €2 031 047
8 Luke Donald (Eng) €1 838 492
9 Graeme McDowell (NIrl) €1 822 425
10 Paul Lawrie (Sco) €1 802 903
11 Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) €1 698 254
12 Lee Westwood (Eng) €1 642 087
13 Matteo Manassero (Ita) €1 560 100
14 Marcel Siem (Ger) €1 333 852
15 Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) €1 240 535
16 David Lynn (Eng) €1 186 138
17 Rafael Cabrera Bello (Spa) €1 170 866
18 Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) €1 024 698
19 Jamie Donaldson (Wal) €1 015 652
20 George Coetzee (Rsa) €1 014 717
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