The focus so far this week may have been on Lee Westwood’s ascent to World Number One, but there is another battle simmering in The Race to Dubai as three of The European Tour’s powerhouses face off at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
Martin Kaymer, the man Westwood beat to the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, is in pole position in The Race to Dubai, but Graeme McDowell – currently second - cut the German’s sizeable lead with victory at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters last weekend.
The Northern Irishman is €528,581 behind Kaymer but a win at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China would give him a good chance of edging ahead. If that does not happen, McDowell at least has a great opportunity to intensify the battle ahead of the last three events – the Barclays Singapore Open and the UBS Hong Kong Open before the season finalé at the Dubai World Championship presented by DP World.
Kaymer has been in imperious form the past few months, claiming his first Major at the US PGA Championship as well as the KLM Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship to streak ahead, but McDowell has kept the Race alive with some fine performances of his own.
“I didn’t really think I could overtake him until this last week,” said McDowell. “I figured if Martin continued to play the way he has been playing then even if I had a great five weeks I wasn’t going to catch him.
“I wouldn’t say last week has blown The Race to Dubai wide open but it has given me a fighting chance. He is playing here at the WGC-HSBC Champions and then in Singapore next week and I think I read somewhere that we have in the region of €16 million (euros) to play for in the next five weeks so my goal is to get to Dubai where, if I won the tournament then I’d have the chance to win The Race to Dubai. That is all I can really expect.”
Kaymer has had a sublime season with four victories to rise to Number Three in the world, and admits it would put the icing on the cake to win The Race to Dubai – something he might have achieved last season had he not been forced to miss two months with a foot injury.
“My main goal at the beginning of the season was to win The Race to Dubai,” said the 25 year old. “Last year I had a chance to win it and even though I didn't, that gave me the belief that I can be the Number One in Europe one day and winning straightaway in Abu Dhabi (in February) again was perfect.
“Then through the Major win, that gave me finally the belief that I can win any tournament I play. I just want to play and have fun and take care of The Race to Dubai.”
Europe’s reigning Number One Westwood, currently third, is not mathematically out of the equation, but is planning to use the next couple of weeks to prepare for the Dubai World Championship and continue his rehabilitation from a calf injury instead of playing the next two events.
With a deficit of €1,289,307 to overturn by the end of the season, Westwood admits retaining The Race to Dubai title he won in such supreme fashion 12 months ago is not his main focus now.
“I'm taking it gently,” he said. “I'm not playing too much, just this one week. It's taking a lot longer to recover, it's still not right. That's not ideal because I would like to play a run of tournaments to get a bit of form together.
“I’m not going to say the end of this year is a write off but I'm not too worried about the way I play, because I haven't played a lot. I do feel very rusty and this part of the year is really just a gauge towards being right for the start of next season.”