David Howell: Drama towards both ends of the rankings on Tour

Just over a year ago Le Golf National hosted what many would say was the most spectacular Ryder Cup to date. For those of us who had been visiting the stadium course for the last two decades to play in the French Open, simply put, it’s just a fantastic golf course that tests every part of your game.

In the run-up to The Ryder Cup the French Open quite rightly bagged a strong summer date in the schedule, but this year the Albatros course hosted Europe’s players just two weeks from the end of the regular season – the point at which the top 110 players are decided and players either keep their full playing rights for the following season, or they lose their job. It really is an incredibly stressful time of the year for those at the wrong end of the rankings.

Nicolas Colsaerts came into the week teetering on the brink of losing his Tour card. He left Paris secure in the knowledge that he still has what it takes to win on the most dramatic course in Europe, just when it mattered most. His emotional reaction showed us all just what this win meant to the former Ryder Cup player.

I’m no statistician, but by my reckoning it must be a long time since the top four players all made a double-bogey or worse during the final round of a professional golf tournament. Colsaerts followed a masterful eagle on the 14th with a torrid double-bogey on the 15th. J.B. Hansen, finished second, after a costly double-bogey on the penultimate hole. What a blow to take, especially after fighting back from a nine on the 13th on Saturday. Talk about a bounce back – a nine followed by four birdies.


Success stories

Coetzee, was going great guns until he had a triple-bogey on the 15th on Sunday. Kitayama, finished fourth on nine-under – not so bad, after running up a quadruple bogey on the par-3 second hole on Sunday. These, ultimately, were all success stories in their own way.

Whilst it hurts to have a chance of winning and then blow it with a high number, finishing in the top four can only go down as a success. Spare a thought for my good friend Jamie Donaldson, starting the final round on nine-under and in 135th position in the Race To Dubai it was all to play for. Looking forward to a serene day on the links, imagine Jamie’s emotions after taking an eight on the par-3 second hole. Golf certainly can hurt! Many of these players will be delighted to see the French Open return to its summer date next year. After The Ryder Cup, the general consensus was that the Albatros course was a brilliant match play course – and indeed it was. But there is no mistaking that it’s an even better stroke play course. If we could play on a few more courses like it, globally, golf would be all the better for it.

At the summit of the Race to Dubai rankings sits Bernd Wiesberger. Who would have imagined the Austrian topping the list just ten months after returning from a career-threatening injury to his wrist? Certainly, not Bernd. Maybe he wasn’t one of our brightest stars, but surgery for any sportsman is a huge task to recover from. 

Sure enough, after returning to action it took him ten events to post a top 20, at the China Open, followed by a missed cut in the British Masters. But then…wow! A win in Denmark, four tournaments later; a second place in the Irish Open, a Rolex Series event; then win No.2 at the Scottish Open. Back down to earth for a few weeks and then the knockout punch, another victory in a Rolex Series event in Italy.

rankings
Bernd Wiesberger at 2019 ASI Scottish Open.

Interesting climax

So, heading into the final four events of the year Bernd is our leader with Jon Rahm hard on his heels, Open Champion Lowry nestled in third and then two Englishmen, Matt Fitzpatrick and Matt Wallace completing the top five. 

With the points system rejigged this season, a win in Turkey or at Sun City comes with an even bigger haul of points, so the Race to Dubai is building into an incredibly interesting climax, with life-changing prize-money on offer, even for these great players, meaning this year’s DP World Tour Championship could well be the best and most competitive yet. 

 With some of the usual suspects conspicuous by their absence from the top of the Race, it looks likely that domination of the Rolex Series events, rather than the Majors and World Golf Championships, will prove to be the key to success this year, just the way we had hoped it would be. Rory or Rose could yet make a dash for the line but coming into the final furlong it seems that we could well end up with a new champion, crowned once again on the 18th green of the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. I wish them all well in their quest to become Europe’s No.1 for 2019.

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