As The European Tour’s inaugural ‘Final Series’ makes the short journey to the western side of Shanghai for this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions, europeantour.com's Will Pearson looks at all the big movers, shakers and bubble boys as the all-new climax to The Race to Dubai continues apace.
With more than $30million on offer over the course of the four momentous events concluding The 2013 Race to Dubai – in what is the maiden edition of the ‘Final Series’ – there were always going to be seismic shifts and giant leaps in abundance, as last week indubitably proved.
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, of course, was the main beneficiary in part one of the closing quartet, after his superb victory up the road at Lake Malaren in the BMW Masters presented by SRE Group not only netted him €851,346, but also propelled the Spaniard 31 places up The Race to Dubai into fourth place with three events of the season remaining.
The top ten is both a celebrated and undoubtedly lucrative group to break into, with the leading ten players come the close of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai sharing €3.75million in the Bonus Pool.
Another man who did no harm to his chances of claiming a sizeable portion of that pie last week was Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee.
The five-time European Tour winner finished tied second alongside Italy’s Francesco Molinari after closing out with a six under par 66 at Lake Malaren to move from 21st to sixth in The Race to Dubai.
The last ten years on The European Tour has reaped Jaidee considerable reward – this is the third time he has passed the €1million mark in season-earnings – but 2013 could end up being his annus mirabilis, even without a win so far this year.
The Lop Buri native, who turns 44 midway through the ‘Final Series’, won twice in 2009 en route to his previous best finish of 19th in the inaugural Race Dubai. But seven top ten finishes – including a runner-up spot to Graeme McDowell in May’s Volvo World Match Play Championship – have thrust Jaidee into the top ten and with it handed him a good chance of achieving what he says would be his “proudest moment”.
“My performance last week was very good and I’m feeling happy with my game at the moment, especially from tee to green,” said the affable Jaidee.
“I’m just enjoying everything too and I think that shows on the golf course. I have been doing a lot of work with my coach and I think we saw a lot of improvements last week. I’m now a lot happier with my swing and finishing runner-up last week helped me jump into the top ten which is great.
“I think if I can stay in there by the end of Dubai it would definitely be one of my proudest moments in my life so hopefully I can get into contention again here and make it happen.”
Meanwhile, further down The Race to Dubai, the battle to make the top 60 following the Turkish Airlines Open next week is hotting up as The European Tour’s finest bid for a place in the Dubai finale.
While much of the ‘bubble boy’ focus may well centre on Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy, who currently reside at 61st and 62nd respectively in The Race to Dubai heading into this week, it was one of their Ryder Cup team-mates in Sweden’s Peter Hanson who broke into that elite group with a stunning finish at the BMW Masters.
After what has been a frustrating season beset by back injury, Hanson returned to the golf course last week to defend the title he won in 2012 and did superbly to bounce back from an opening 79 as a blistering 63 on the final day earned the 36 year old a tied eighth finish and a move from 68th to 57th in The Race to Dubai.
“Last week was the first that I've played in the last nine and my back is still not 100 per cent but hopefully from now on, we will be good,” said Hanson. “My plan was actually to take two weeks off after this week and then try to play World Cup but now having moved inside the top 60 the goalposts may have moved a bit.
“I'm mainly just very happy to be back on the course again. All last week I was just trying to take it one shot at a time and I think that sometimes it's easier to do that when you have been injured because you don't really know what you're going to get.
“For my own sake it was a huge confidence boost for this week at the HSBC but I'll try to keep my expectations down and just try to carry on where I left off on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, Ian Poulter, who defends his title this week at Sheshan International Golf Club, will also be looking for a top finish as he attempts to move inside the top ten from his current 15th place in The Race to Dubai, while Graeme McDowell will be hoping to make up some of the €443,725 deficit which separates him from the man heading the rankings as the ‘Final Series’ continues – Henrik Stenson.