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Karlsson's Merit mark as the Tour rolls on

Iain Carter | 17:09 UK time, Sunday, 2 November 2008

The absurdity of one calendar running into another was highlighted by Order of Merit winner Robert Karlsson as he hurried away from Valderrama.

The tall Swede effectively had a 45-minute close season to reflect on being crowned European golf's biggest earner in the 2007-8 season.

Karlsson was flying from Malaga to Paris where he faced a three-quarters of an hour cab ride to Charles de Gaulle airport.

This was the minuscule in-between bit because from the French capital he would then embark on the first journey of the new campaign.

Thankfully this is the last time the European Tour seasons will be run in this way. Karlsson's flight to Shanghai takes him to the HSBC Champions tournament, which heralds the start of the inaugural Race to Dubai.

Robert Karlsson

Of course Karlsson will take more time than just that taxi ride across Paris to reflect on the best season of his 21-year career to date.

The 39-year-old had played encouragingly at the WGC World Matchplay in Tucson despite losing in the second round, but his year was truly kick-started when he tied for eighth at the Masters.

Karlsson then embarked on an extraordinary run in which he was no worse then fourth in five consecutive tournaments. Most satisfying was the way he bounced back to finish second at the Celtic Manor Wales Open the week after blowing a winning opportunity at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

He tied for fourth spot at the US Open, finished seventh at the Open and sneaked into the top 20 at the US PGA. Then there were wins in Germany and at St Andrews that sandwiched the Ryder Cup in which he won two out of a possible four points for Nick Faldo's team.

Ultimately it didn't matter that he could only finish 32nd at the season-ending Volvo Masters as Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez failed to fashion the elevated results required to deny Karlsson the Harry Vardon Trophy.

Harrington departed Spain happy enough; 2008 was an even better year for him with his two major wins. Karlsson has acknowledged as much and must now set his sights on emulating the Irishman in the biggest championships.

Westwood was so consistent without quite doing enough to land a trophy. He must feel satisfaction and frustration in equal measure, though now his focus is the removal of his troublesome tonsils and an enforced break from playing.

His short game is so much more dependable than it was and we should expect him to be alongside Harrington and Sergio Garcia in leading Europe's challenge for the majors next year.

Meanwhile, it seems unlikely Phil Mickelson will be contesting the new Race to Dubai. The world number two has been looking into taking up European Tour membership and has spoken of the need to play more than an American-based schedule.

But the three-time major winner is struggling to fit in the five extra European sanctioned events he would need to play on top of the four majors and three WGC World Championship tournaments.

"I don't think Phil Mickelson will join for the coming season," admitted Tour chief executive George O'Grady at his Valderrama news conference. "I think two of the tournaments that we were thinking he might have played may not fit his schedule."

O'Grady confirmed that Anthony Kim is the only American to have joined the Tour and that Colombia's Camilo Villegas has also signed on the dotted line. "We have pulled back (into the fold) others that are generally European Tour players," he added.

"Adam Scott, we also have confirmations from Luke Donald and Robert Allenby and Trevor Immelman is definitely doing his 12."

O'Grady will meet Mickelson in Shanghai on Wednesday, saying: "He might change his mind, but I will be very surprised."

If he doesn't, Mickelson would be ineligible for a new Players' Player of the Year award. Padraig Harrington has been pushing for such an accolade to be introduced to run alongside the long-established European Tour Player of the Year prize which is voted for by golf writers and broadcasters.

"We will bring that in at the beginning of the coming season," O'Grady confirmed. "We might use the model of Seve Ballesteros's hands on the golf club on the trophy that goes with it."

That would be a superb touch.

And no prizes for guessing who this year's Player of the Year will be - the media won't be out of kilter with the players when they inevitably vote for Harrington for his major wins ahead of Karlsson's consistency.



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