It’s not easy to determine the exact ‘end’ of the golf season, since the European Tour’s grand finale in Dubai occurs just as the PGA Tour is staggering through its uninspiring fall events, which are nominally the opening act to next season. If at one point in history the sun never set on the British Empire, now it never sets on professional golf. For practical purposes, though, I see this week’s DP World Tour Championship as the last four days of meaningful golf in 2015.
Let’s get something out of the way—the Race to Dubai (R2D) is not a perfect system. Last year, Rory McIlroy had already clinched the title before the fourth and final event, and he didn’t even play in the first three! Where’s the drama? Luckily, 2015 brings us a closer fight—McIlroy leads narrowly, but Danny Willett, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace, and even Byeong Hun An have a chance to topple him in Dubai.
Unlike last year, this should be entertaining. Before we get to some year-end thoughts on the state of golf heading into 2016, here are three picks for Dubai.
Reed is the rare successful American golfer who really seems to value his membership in the European Tour, and though he’s never won a professional event on European (or otherwise foreign) soil, he’s come incredibly close in the last few weeks. First it was a T3 in Hong Kong in late October, then a T7 at the WGC in Shanghai, and then on Sunday, he lost in a play-off at the BMW Masters in Shanghai to Sweden’s Kristoffer Broberg. This is the best he’s played all season after an average (by his standards) summer. His competitive juices will be flowing in a field with 60 of the world’s best golfers.
Shooting -15 at the Masters and finishing second is a brutal, brutal result, and that finish in April presaged a season of near-misses for Rose, including sixth at the Open, third at Bridgestone, fourth at the PGA, and second at the Tour Championship. Frankly, he deserves a big win, and his first place in Hong Kong (and his seventh at the BMW) looks very much like a prelude to a Race to Dubai championship. If he wins, he’s in, and right now he and Reed look like the strongest golfers in the field.
The 2013 champion is definitely in the “greatest active player without a major” discussion (probably third, behind Sergio and Lee Westwood), and he tends to excel in these big-but-not-that -big events with a lot of money on the line. He’s the only man to win the FedExCup Playoffs and the Race to Dubai in the same year, and there’s something even more important—he’s won at the DP World Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates two years in a row. He loves the course, he’s in great form after a T3 in Shanghai, and a top-five finish is the closest thing in golf to a guarantee.
Which brings us to the sad end of the golfing year. Here are some final thoughts to take us into 2016, with dreams of sunshine and lush green grass, paired with a few bets to bolster your personal golf fund.
The Field v Jordan Spieth at the Australian Open
I love Spieth, but COME ON! Also, do you really think the Aussie trio of Scott/Leishman/Bowditch is going to roll over and let an American win their flagship event for the second year in a row? Always take the field in golf.
Rory McIlroy to win the 2016 Masters
The story of Rory’s cursed year is well documented by now—a strange off-season of lawsuits kept him from top form at the Masters, a busy schedule tired him out for the U.S. Open, and the kick-about ankle injury kept him away from St. Andrews and had him limping at the PGA. What was bad for him was great for golf, as it cleared the landscape for the emergence of a real rival in Jordan Spieth, but now it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to the once and future king. He’s angry, he’s motivated, and he’s going to win at Augusta in April.
The U.S. to win the 2016 Ryder Cup
The Americans have a competent captain in Davis Love III (and no repeat of the Watson debacle), an insane crop of young talent, and home soil. Keep in mind that before 1987, Europe never won a Ryder cup in America, and in the four times they’ve done it since, only once has been by more than two points. It’s very difficult to win this event on enemy turf even against a mediocre team, but the U.S. will be bringing the fire next year.
Tiger Woods to never win another Major
As we say in the States, Tiger is deader than a doornail—he’ll be past the big 4-0 the next time we see him in action, and the game’s young talent has never been stornger. But when do you collect this bet? Is this the kind of wager you pass on to your children? Regardless, do it. Your kids will love you when you’re gone.
Shane Ryan is the author of ‘Slaying the Tiger: A year inside the ropes on the PGA Tour’ & the European version ‘Chasing the Legends: The rise of the young guns in golf’ revealing the stories that the insiders know, but rarely share.