The Race to Dubai was introduced in 2009 to replace the European’s Tour outdated Order of Merit; this was in answer to the PGA Tours FedEx Cup, with the hope of enticing the best players to compete. The 2016 edition sees a new look three tournament final series having featured 47 tournaments in 27 countries worldwide throughout the season. The Turkish Airlines Open will once again feature, whilst the Nedbank Golf Challenge – traditionally held later in the calendar year – acts as the penultimate event of the season with the grand finale at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, where the 60 leading players on points play to win the financial bonuses available and to be crowned the season champion.
Since its introduction in 2009, the best players at the current time have consistently been crowned the Race to Dubai (R2D) Champion. Rory McIlroy has triumphed during three of the previous four editions and currently places third during 2016, making him the firm favourite. Notably, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood both played a full tournament schedule on route to their own victories, however since then the winner has played a maximum of 17 events and has predominantly participated on the PGA Tour.
Players who ply their trade mainly on the European Tour and have played 20 or more events must possess multiple wins and/or top five finishes in order to have a chance of winning the R2D simply due to the smaller prize funds available in regular European Tour events.
Alex Noren has amassed three victories and a runner-up position this year – more than any other player – but currently only sits in fourth place. Stenson and McIlroy have played 13 and 11 events respectively and are currently ranked one and three, demonstrating their superiority in the biggest worldwide tournaments. Cabrera Bello has been the textbook example of consistency all year with no missed cuts and a joint highest average finishing positioning of 18th; however he is yet to win worldwide during 2016 and for all his good play, is only ranked in sixth position. Players currently ranked below sixth will require a minimum of one win in the final three events and hope for other player’s results to work in their favour, similar to McIlroy’s exploits during this year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs.
The top three R2D ranked players inside the top 20 are also the three highest world ranked players, signifying further the importance of good finishes in the biggest worldwide events. Garcia currently ranks 16th but has played the joint second lowest number of events (11) for any of the top 20 players. Molinari has played the fewest events (seven) of the top 20 players but ranks 17th in the R2D due to one win and a runner-up placing. Fisher is perhaps experiencing some of his best golf in years in recent months, and although ranked 69th in the world, currently places in 15th position. Nevertheless, on average, the higher up in the world rankings a player is the higher they place in the R2D, suggesting for someone to win the contest ranked outside the top seven places would require three great results in the final series.
Average finishing position during the 2016 majors provides a large number of points for the R2D. Tyrrell Hatton has appeared in two of the four majors this year and has averaged eighth position along with a win at the Dunhill Links, resulting in him being ranked in fifth position. Stenson and Willett have each won a major championship during 2016 and consequently it is perhaps not surprising to see them in first and second spot.
Therefore, the Turkish Airlines Open will afford certain players the opportunity to catch up on valuable points in the race as well as the chance to capitalise on those who have decided to skip the first of the final three events.
The previous three Turkish Airlines Opens were played at The Montgomerie Maxx Royal where scoring has been traditionally low, with an average winning total of 21 under par. However, 2016 provides a new venue at Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort leading to a new challenge for the field and means previous course form will have no impact with the players, making for an enthralling watch.
On each occasion, the previous winner of the Turkish Airlines Open had an inconsistent season, with their victory being their first and only triumph of the season. Dubuisson missed six cuts a piece during his two victory years with Koepka missing four from 15 events. The winners did not register a single runner-up finish, showing form played no factor during the victories. With the event being hosted during November at the end of a long and challenging season, the player who is the freshest may well be the one to watch regardless of season and/or current form.
Over the previous three editions of the Turkish Airlines Open, once again Stenson and McIlroy are the two notable performers with an average finishing position of fifth and sixth respectively. Significantly, Chris Wood averages 10th in the event and after his PGA BMW Championship victory at Wentworth in May, he has the game to genuinely take the R2D crown. Furthermore, Tyrell Hatton averages 23rd and with his breakthrough win just last month is another name to watch. Meaningfully the average position for the current top 20 ranked players for the R2D being 29th indicates a high calibre of play from these players in past years. Although the event has a new venue, it is highly probably the winner will come from one of these players.
Notably, four of the top five ranked players in the R2D also rank inside the top 10 for season stroke average, showing the importance of consistency as well as performing in the big events. However, Willett ranks 36th in stroke average suggesting when in form he is as good as any player in the game, yet his ‘B game’ is not yet up to scratch. Molinari ranks second in stroke average but due to only participating in seven events to date he simply has had too few points available to be realistically nearer the top.
With many of the leading players opting to skip the first event of the series – Stenson and McIlroy included – the Turkish Airlines Open will provide a good chance for a lower ranked player to make their move through the rankings, so it will be interesting to see how the standings look following this event.