The European Tour’s 2019 season is all set for a grand finale in Dubai, but, Matt Cooper wonders, what if, like cycling’s great race, the golf season had more than one prize?
Ever since 2009 the European Tour’s season has been fashioned as the Race to Dubai with a grand finale on the Earth Course at Jumeirah.
As in all previous editions, by Sunday evening we will not only know the victor in the DP World Tour Championship, but also the identity of the winner of the Race itself.
But in truth any golf season provides a rather more complex narrative than simple rankings allow for and as things stand there is only one concession for this – the Rookie of the Year title which this week, barring a miraculous performance by Guido Migliozzi, is a head-to-head between Scotland’s three-time runner-up Robert MacIntyre and American two-time winner Kurt Kitayama.
What if the European Tour, which already awards gold stars and golden bibs for Rolex Series wins, had other prizes?
We’re not talking the PGA and LPGA’s slightly naff (but incredibly lucrative) Aon Risk Reward Challenge, which forces a square peg into a round hole.
Instead the classifications could be guided by more natural golfing rhythms, inspired by the Tour de France. Here are our suggestions:
King of the Links
Rather like the King of the Mountains in the sense that both disciplines are celebrated as a pure and beautiful element of the sport. In golf’s version ten points are awarded for a win, five for a top five and one point for a top ten. This year’s counting events were the British Masters at Hillside, the Irish Open at Lahinch, the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club, the Open at Royal Portrush and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the Old Course, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie.
Winning the polka dot caddie bib is Bernd Wiesberger, courtesy of a superb fortnight when he was second at Lahinch, then winner at the Renaissance. Tommy Fleetwood was second, claiming two top fives and a top ten, Eddie Pepperell third with two top fives and Jeunghun Wang’s top five and two top tens earned him fourth.
The Team Competition
In an ideal world this would involve a fruity revelation of which manufacturers cobbled together most wins. Battle of the tour trucks might be a better term. But that requires insider golf bag knowledge well beyond this pay scale so the classification becomes a simple tally of wins per country. And in 2019 there was only ever going to be one winner – the United States of America with 11 baubles, fully five clear of England, with Spain and South Africa sharing third on four apiece.
Otherwise known as First Round Leads and this particular category is still up for grabs. Points were awarded as follows: five points for a solo 18-hole lead, three for a shared lead, two for second and one for third. With one sprint to go Louis Oosthuizen leads on 14 points, from Victor Perez and Kurt Kitayama tied for second on 12. Of the players on nine and ten points only Jon Rahm and Matthias Schwab (both nine) play this week. Oosthuizen tally was made up of solo leads in the South African Open and Nedbank Challenge, plus second places in the U.S. Open and Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
No giggling at the back. Points awarded as they were for King of the Links with the counting events the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Dubai Desert Classic, Saudi International, Oman Open, Qatar Masters, with this week’s result to be added. Following a win and a top ten each Justin Harding and Bryson DeChambeau lead on 11 points, followed by Jorge Campillo, Shane Lowry and Dustin Johnson on ten, with Tom Lewis, Joost Luiten and Paul Waring on six.
Cycling has the Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix plus many others. And this year the European Tour completed an autumnal three-week circuit of the great capital cities, from Madrid to Paris via Rome. Two men outperformed the rest in that spell, earning two top five finishes, the ubiquitous Kurt Kitayama and Denmark’s JB Hansen who wins the gong because his two finishes were higher (second in Paris, fourth in Madrid).
Prix de la Combativitie
Awarded to the most aggressive rider on the Tour de France, but in this version handed to Benjamin Hebert in honour of his achievement of making three play-offs in 2019 and winning not one of them. The golfing equivalent of making three bold breaks and getting gobbled up by the peloton on the outskirts of the centre ville.
The tournament was the first European Tour event since the sporting shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 23-year-old had started the final round three strokes behind his fellow American.
Poulter is six shots back heading into the final round.
The Englishman produced an excellent sand save on the last to see him finish the day at 10 under par.
The 44-year-old’s last appearance on the PGA Tour was in mid-February.
The biennial match between the United States and Europe will now take place in September 2021 at Whistling Straits.
Organisers hope to stage the event in September 2021.