Those at the top of the Tour’s order of merit are concentrating on building up their earnings so as to challenge for the millions at stake in the Dubai World Championship and its massive bonus pool at the end of November.
The next category are those hoping to remain within the top 60 who also go forward to challenge for the riches on offer in Dubai.
And then there are those down the food chain desperately trying to get within the 115 who retain their playing privileges in 2011. Finish outside that mark and you’re either off to that most daunting of exercises – the six-round European Tour School in northern Spain in early December – or you start considering a new career path.
Where the Dubai jackpot is concerned, Germany’s Martin Kaymer is the unbackable favourite for the riches on offer. His victory in the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews confirmed his status as the best player on the globe at the moment and saw him move up to 4th in the world rankings behind Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson.
Although not one of the more flamboyant members of the successful European Ryder Cup team – he is not a man prone to demonstrations of fist punching or anything of that nature – Kaymer claimed 2½ points out of four. He has been in superb form recently with three individual tournament wins in succession along with the Ryder Cup heroics.
And at 25 years of age, the likelihood is that he’ll be world number one before long.
Graeme McDowell is second place in the Race to Dubai, almost a million points behind Kaymer. While that margin can still be bridged with the money on offer over the coming weeks in Portugal, Spain, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, it is unlikely that Kaymer will suffer such a drop in form to be overtaken by the US Open champion. Furthermore, third placed Lee Westwood won’t play for at least a month because of his calf muscle problem and that further helps the leader’s cause.
Eight Irishmen are within the leading 60 hoping to make it to Dubai. Apart from McDowell, Rory McIlroy (12th), Pádraig Harrington (18th) and Darren Clarke (27th) look safe and Peter Lawrie (47th) needs only one or two decent finishes to consolidate his position. Damien McGrane and Gareth Maybin, 53rd and 54th respectively, are in a similar situation while Shane Lowry is on the cut mark of 60th.
Having stood five under par after seven holes of his first round in the Dunhill, Lowry eventually closed down the field and so lost a great chance of securing his place in Dubai. He is in the field for this week’s Portugal Masters in Vilamoura along with Clarke, Lawrie, McGrane, Maybin and also Michael Hoey, currently 97th in the money list.
Paul McGinley will also be in action but he stands 139th in the order of merit so unless he were to win the tournament, his prospects of getting to Dubai are almost non existent. However, his outstanding exploits over the past decade and more ensure that he has no problems where his future participation on Tour is concerned. Simon Thornton, 142nd in the order of merit, was sixth reserve yesterday but is hopeful an anticipated spate of withdrawals might see him into the tournament.
These are nerve wracking times for several players in danger of losing their cards should they fail to pick up points in Portugal and over the following two weeks at Castellon and Valderrama in Spain. €8 million is on offer in these tournaments and yet their generous sponsors are not guaranteed the kind of quality field to merit such investment.
As we have seen, only four of the European Ryder Cup team are in Portugal this week, none at all have so far entered the Castello tournament and Harrington is just one of those who will also skip Valderrama.
Meanwhile, Athlone’s Colm Moriarty still has an outside chance of reaching the main tour through his ranking on the Challenge Tour. He tied for 8th in the Allianz Toulouse Open at the weekend and the €3,900 he collected nudged him to 44th in the order of merit. He has earned a total of €25,724, still more than €21,000 short of the man in 20th spot. The top 20 qualify for 2011 circuit and there are still three tournaments to be played, this week’s Rome Open followed by the Egyptian Open and the Grand Final at Apulia San Domenico in Puglia, Italy.