The European Tour ends this week for the year at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, with a close battle over who will win the Race to Dubai and become Europe’s No. 1 golfer.
After 42 tournaments in 23 countries, the winner will take home a share of the record $9 million in prize money.
Here are five players to watch.
He is one of this year’s breakout stars. Zalatoris, 25, of the United States, was sixth at the United States Open, eighth at the PGA Championship and won the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year. Most notably, Zalatoris crashed at the center of the wave when he finished second at the Masters, losing by one stroke to Hideki Matsuyama of Japan
“The past year has been pretty crazy,” Zalatoris said in an interview. “But it’s all good stuff. It’s been a lot of fun. However, Augusta is the one I am most proud of. Just knowing that I can put myself in that position and be in the fight and deal with it. It’s nice to know you can do things like this. It’s motivating.”
11 in the Race to Dubai, Zalatoris has been working on distance control but said there is no secret to his success. “The good is really good,” he said. “We just have to make the bad a little better.”
Fitzpatrick, 27, from England is the defending champion, coming fresh to Dubai after a win at the Andalusian Masters in Spain for a total of seven wins on the European Tour.
“I really think my game is going in the right direction,” he recently told reporters. “If I play well in the coming weeks, hopefully I will get some good results.”
Fitzpatrick, No. 6 in the Race to Dubai, said it was important to control the amount of pressure he put on himself and to be patient.
“I think for me it’s about consistency in all four aspects of my game,” he said. “This year it was driving and putting, but my approach game wasn’t good, so hopefully I’ll get that to a better level and keep doing that.”
Morikawa, 24, from the United States, made his debut in Dubai last year and is leading this year’s Race to Dubai.
“I put myself in a pretty strong position to win,” he said in a phone interview. “Now I try to prepare, just like any other event. I come out to try and win. It will be a large field of players. I have seen this course and know what to expect.”
Morikawa is working on “a few small things,” he said. “Some things are physical and some are mental. It’s about getting a little sharper. It’s the end of the season and sometimes you get a little too relaxed. So it’s just about staying sharp when you’re out there.”
Morikawa, who has won two majors and five tournaments on the PGA Tour, tries to put his approach to the game into perspective.
“You try to think back to the time when you played well and try to put yourself in that situation and realize what you’ve done. You try to be consistent and have a routine. It’s about being simple and simple things to think when you’re on the golf course. Sometimes it’s not that easy. I can’t think of protecting my lead. All I have to do is go out and hit the target.”
Bland, of England, made headlines in May when he took his first European Tour win at the British Masters at the age of 48.
After working his way through 478 tournaments over more than two decades, Bland finally won. He has been on a hot streak ever since, with six top-10 finishes placing him in 8th place in the Race to Dubai.
What did Bland change in his game to get the recent results?
“I haven’t done anything else,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think it was just my time. It’s hard to explain why they didn’t win sooner. I just kept playing well since the win. I haven’t changed the way I practice. I don’t try to do anything else. Everything just clicked into place, and then you get the confidence to win. It just snowed from there.”
Comfort, consistency and a clear head work for Bland. “I’m not a big tinkerer or changer of things,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. If your game is in good shape, just play it. I don’t want too many thoughts going through my head.”
Min Woo Lee
Lee, 23 from Australia, is the latest to make the Race to Dubai top 10 after three recent appearances on the European Tour. He was second at the Andalusian Masters, eighth at the Portugal Masters and fourth at the AVIV Dubai Championship last week. The results place him at number 5 in the Race to Dubai.
“I was supposed to take this week off but I thought my form was pretty solid and it would be a new challenge for me and I could overcome it,” Lee said in a statement. “It’s been tough, I haven’t been home in six months, but I’m looking forward to going home and relaxing.”
Earlier this season, Lee took his first two victories on the tour, narrowly eliminating Fitzpatrick at the Scottish Open and finishing two shots ahead of New Zealand’s Ryan Fox at the ISPS Handa Vic Open.