Race to Dubai: Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood set for thrilling final showdown

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari
Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari have been dubbed collectively as Moliwood thanks to their blossoming bromance

While the Race to Dubai is not the most perfect league table, it reliably identifies the European Tour's finest performer and the coveted Harry Vardon Trophy invariably ends in the correct hands.

Few would contest the merits of the most recent winners - Tommy Fleetwood last year, Rory McIlroy three times in the last six campaigns and Henrik Stenson twice in the last five.

These were the men who won most Tour money in those years and set themselves apart with the quality of their golf. This year appears no exception as we head into the final week of competition.

And it could be a box office finale, indeed a blockbuster made in 'Moliwood'. The $1.25 million bonus for topping the standings rests between the bromance brothers of Europe's Ryder Cup victory, Francesco Molinari and Fleetwood.

Of course, it would be more fitting if Justin Rose, in third place, was competing this week and therein lies the fundamental weakness of the Race to Dubai. It does not always grab the full attention of leading stars with other scheduling priorities.

But Rose is nearly 1.3 million points behind Molinari, who has been the stand-out European performer this year.

Fleetwood can still retain his Race to Dubai crown but has to overhaul a 1,025,166-point deficit so the Italian is in a commanding position. And so he should be after winning the Open in July to add to his superb BMW PGA Championship win at Wentworth in May.

The Italian was also second at his home open, won on the PGA Tour in Potomac and was runner-up at the John Deere Classic the week prior to Carnoustie.

It has been the season of the London-based 36-year-old's life, with much of his success fashioned under the tutelage of swing coach Denis Pugh, putting guru Phil Kenyon and performance specialist Dave Alred.

The diligently-targeted hard work not only yielded three titles but a record five points out of five at Le Golf National, four of them fittingly garnered in partnership with Ryder Cup rookie Fleetwood.

Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood
Molinari and Fleetwood were a lethal partnership in Europe's Ryder Cup victory over the United States at Le Golf National in Paris in September

"Wherever we are today, we can get better tomorrow and that's our mantra," Alred told BBC Sport. "We create an environment where winning is the result of doing what we do."

This has involved performance drills on the range and short game areas where Molinari has been challenged to go to what Alred calls "the ugly zone". Everything he does is charted and monitored and improvements are therefore quantifiable.

On course success is a mere bi-product, the key is a continued path of improvement. Further fruits are likely to be gathered at this week's DP World Tour Championship.

For Molinari to be denied the Race to Dubai bounty, Fleetwood must win the season finale and the Claret Jug holder would have to finish worse than a share of fifth place with one other player.

It is not an impossible scenario but the odds firmly suggest another fitting honour heading in the direction of the popular Italian.

There has been much to celebrate in this European Tour season and not just the continent's resounding Ryder Cup victory. It is a Tour that has yielded a string of compelling storylines throughout 2018.

Lee Westwood's emotional triumph in South Africa last week was the latest instalment, a win that showed the 45-year-old that he can still mix it at the top of the game. There were many, including the player himself, who wondered whether he still possessed the mentality to win again.

Remarkably, Westwood who was a Ryder Cup vice-captain in France, comes into he final week of the season lying a highly-creditable 16th in the Race to Dubai.

Lee Westwood
Former world number one Lee Westwood, 45, has risen to 16th in the Race to Dubai after his victory in the Nedbank Challenge

But perhaps the most extraordinary name to make it into the elite top 60 for the season finale is Tom Lewis. Now 27, the Welwyn Garden City golfer, who led the 2011 Open as an amateur, has rocketed up the standings in recent weeks.

In September he was still playing on the Challenge Tour before winning the Bridgestone Challenge at Luton Hoo. Then came his second Portugal Masters victory, at which time he was 163rd in the Race to Dubai.

Lewis is now 49th on the money list and firmly ensconced in the world's top 100 having been ranked 436 only last June. His playing privileges secure, this maybe the start of the Englishman truly fulfilling his vast potential.

Certainly, making it to the final event of the year from such an unpromising position less than two months ago offers plenty of inspiration for many of his contemporaries, including those currently slogging away at Tour Q School.

Things can alter rapidly, but most positive changes are the product of long-term endeavour and in that regard there is no better example than Molinari, the man most likely to end this week as the European Tour's number one player.

If it comes to pass, no one could argue with such an outcome.


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