The Players to Watch in Dubai

The DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, contested this week at Jumeirah Golf Estates, celebrates its 10th edition as the European Tour season’s finish line. Lee Westwood ran off with a six-stroke romp in its 2009 debut, which still stands as the tournament’s largest margin of victory and was matched by Henrik Stenson in 2013.

It also was the first of four times in which the DP World Tour winner also finished atop the tour’s Race to Dubai season title, with Westwood later joined by Rory McIlroy (2012, 2015) and Stenson (2013).

Though this year’s points race essentially comes down to Francesco Molinari of Italy and Tommy Fleetwood of England — now known together as Moliwood because of their teamwork at the Ryder Cup this year — several other top golfers have the chance to put a finishing flourish on their notable seasons.

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After sitting out last year’s edition to rest a rib injury, the pro from Northern Ireland is back at a place where his record is unrivaled with two wins, a share of second and no finish lower than 11th in his eight visits.

Despite just a 2-3 record at the Ryder Cup, including a hard-fought loss to Justin Thomas in Sunday singles, McIlroy has seen his results on a solid upward trend since tying for second behind Molinari at the British Open. That began a run of five top-12 finishes in eight events, including three in the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs.

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Despite the raised eyebrows when Thomas Bjorn, the European captain, added him to the roster, García, from Spain, did what he always seems to do at Ryder Cups: win points, spur his teammates and stick a needle into United States hopes. He went 3-1 in France, passing Nick Faldo as Europe’s career points leader.

Just the selection to represent Europe seemed to put a spark into García’s form, as he broke out of one of his worst overall seasons to tune up for the Ryder Cup with a top 10 in Portugal. In his first two starts after France, he captured a second straight Andalucia Valderrama Masters crown and took second at the Nedbank Golf Challenge.

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The defending DP World Tour champion tees it up for just the second time since his emotional Sunday at Le Golf National, when a 2&1 singles triumph over Tiger Woods was punctuated by a guttural scream and teary handshake with his idol.

Rahm got off to a slow start by shooting 73-76 at the WGC HSBC Champions, working his way up the board on the weekend to finish with a share of 22nd. The 24-year-old Spaniard is one of just three men to win multiple Rolex Series events in its two-year history, the other victory coming in a six-stroke romp at last year’s Irish Open.

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Don’t look now, but the Masters champion comes to Dubai at No. 4 in season points, though his deficit of just over 1.44 million points behind Molinari is too large to overcome. A tournament win, though, might serve as a quiet statement after the discontent he expressed heading home from France.

Reed said he felt blindsided by the decision to break up a partnership with Jordan Spieth that had generated an 4-1-2 record over the previous two Ryder Cups, also criticizing the decision by the captain, Jim Furyk, to sit him for two sessions. Pressed on the matter after taking the first-day lead in China, Reed said: “Ryder Cup was three, four weeks ago. Right now I’m just trying to play great golf.”

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In a banner year, Li became the first Chinese man to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by winning the Dubai Desert Classic. He has a chance to finish with a victory 10 months later in the same city.

Li nearly captured his first Rolex Series victory at the Turkish Airlines Open, taking a three-shot lead into the final day before Justin Rose chased him down to prevail in a playoff. Despite the disappointment, it was Li’s fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better, followed by another top five at the Nedbank Challenge.

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A career renaissance after three years of injuries blossomed this year for the 28-year-old Dane, resulting in his first Ryder Cup selection and coming to Jumeirah Golf Estates at No. 7 in the season points chase.

A victory at the Italian Open, where he held off Molinari, put Oleson’s season on a new track. That was the first of eight top-12 finishes in a run of 14 starts, with just four finding him outside the top 20. Though he teed it up just twice at the Ryder Cup, one of those was a solid 5&4 thumping of Spieth in singles.

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Sidelined the past three weeks by back problems, Pepperell has vowed to do all he can to bring a proper finish to a breakthrough season highlighted by his first two European Tour victories, at the Qatar Masters and the British Masters.

The 27-year-old Englishman also has two runner-up finishes in 2018 at the Portugal Masters and the Scottish Open, lifting him into the top 40 of the world rankings for the first time. Before this year, his highest rank was 80th in 2015. Pepperell has also shown to be one of the tour’s more colorful players, with a quirky Twitter account and a blog that can be funny and thought-provoking.

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Last seen posting a 3-0 mark at the Ryder Cup, capped by a 5&4 singles romp over Bubba Watson, the Swede is set to play for the first time since surgery to finally address an elbow injury when he returned home from France.

A part-time Dubai resident, Stenson joins McIlroy as the only two-time winner of the DP World Tour crown, doing it back-to-back in 2013 and ’14. An injury-plagued season caused him to sit out last year, but he’s finished outside the top 10 just once in his past five starts at Jumeirah.

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