Bernd Wiesberger & Jon Rahm among players chasing Race to Dubai title

By Iain CarterBBC golf correspondent
Bernd Wiesberger at the Italian Open
Bernd Wiesberger leads the Race to Dubai after three wins so far this season

There is an often justifiable view that the European Tour plays second fiddle to the American-based PGA Tour.

The continent's biggest stars inevitably gravitate towards US citizenship no matter how much they attach themselves to Europe's cause in Ryder Cups. It is simple, they follow the money.

But this year's shake-up of golf's calendar has created opportunities for the European Tour and this is the period when the Wentworth-based circuit can capitalise.

We are entering the Final Series on the tour's Race to Dubai - three closing events with elevated prize money, ranking points and an enticing narrative to round off the year.

This week's Turkish Airlines Open is followed by the Nedbank Challenge before the season finale - the DP World Tour Championship, which boasts the biggest single tournament winner's cheque in the game.

The $3m (£2.3m) first prize in Dubai later this month grabs the attention of even the most well off professionals so making that 50-man field is a priority for plenty of those competing in Turkey and then Sun City.

But the overall Race - formerly the Order of Merit - is equally fascinating. Since the PGA Tour season finished in August, the European Tour has enjoyed plenty of limelight and has not disappointed.

Danny Willett's victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth set the tone for an excellent autumn period.

And interest levels will continue to grow, starting this week in Turkey where Justin Rose is going for a hat-trick of victories. The US-based Englishman brings his own stardust even if he is not currently a factor in the Race, lying 29th at the moment.

But there are 5,165 points available for winning all three remaining events (1,500 this week, 1,665 in South Africa and 2,000 in Dubai) so, in theory, anyone in the field in Turkey still has a chance of winning the Race to Dubai.

Leading contenders reflect well the character of the European Tour. Austria's Bernd Wiesberger (4,241 points) sets the pace with a brilliant back story having been as low as 389 in the world in May.

Debilitating wrist problems have been cured and the 34-year-old collected victory in Denmark and then the big money Scottish and Italian Opens.

This is a true stalwart who has played no fewer than 20 tour events and in the process climbed to 24 in the world rankings. No one can argue that the European Tour limits opportunities.

Wiesberger is living proof of the progress that can be made. His closest rival is Jon Rahm (3,898), the Spaniard who spends most of his time in America, with Shane Lowry (3,589) lying third.

The Irishman started this year determined to use the European Tour as his bedrock having lost his PGA Tour rights. Lowry won in Abu Dhabi in January and is now the Open champion.

He is another example of the high quality of golfer on the tour. Matthew Fitzpatrick, in fourth place in the Race (3,136), also falls into that category.

With five runner-up finishes this year, four of them on the continental circuit, the 25-year-old from Sheffield is a classic example of the type of golfer the global schedule creates.

Fitzpatrick splits his time between both circuits, choosing carefully which events to play. He has turned himself into a very consistent performer.

As a past winner of the season-ending title in Dubai, he is one to watch. After missing Turkey this week, he will rejoin the fray in South Africa and then the United Arab Emirates.

And thanks to his World Golf Championships win in Shanghai on Sunday, Rory McIlroy (2,764) may also become a factor in the Race to Dubai. The Northern Irishman lies fifth but will not play again until the season finale.

Were he to pull off victory in the Race, to sit alongside his $15m play-off success on the PGA Tour, an already excellent year would become even more impressive despite his obvious frustrations at the majors. This was his 18th top-10 worldwide in 2019, a personal best.

And on the subject of outstanding accomplishments, it is worth noting that one of the most remarkable runs in golf has has just ended.

Phil Mickelson falls to 51 in the world rankings, tumbling out of the all-important top 50 for the first time since November 1993. That ends a run of 1,353 consecutive weeks in golf's elite.

It means McIlroy now has the longest unbroken run in the top 50 at 573 weeks. According to the statisticians at the 15th Club, he would need to stay there until October 2034 to match Mickelson's feat.

McIlroy will not be looking so far ahead. After all, he is among those with much to be excited about right now.


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