Lowry looks to end best season of career as Europe’s No 1
By STEVE DOUGLAS
Shane Lowry started 2019 by ending a 3+-year wait for a victory.
In the middle of the year came his first major title, at the British Open in Royal Portrush.
How about the Irishman finishing the best season of his career by being crowned Europe's No. 1 golfer for the first time?
"I'll be able to sit back next week with my claret jug and be happy with what I have, but I'm trying to do as well as I can this week," Lowry said Tuesday, assessing the state of play heading into the final leg of the Race to Dubai - the World Tour Championship starting Thursday.
"The one thing that's got me over the few months since the Open is, when you have bad days and you're shooting bad scores, people saying to you, 'You won the Open, it doesn't matter.' But it does matter."
It matters to four other players, too.
Lowry is in a five-way fight for the Race to Dubai title, with Bernd Wiesberger, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Matthew Fitzpatrick also still in contention. Fleetwood is the only player of the five to have won it before - in 2017 - and he arrives in the United Arab Emirates with confidence after winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa last week.
Wiesberger, a 34-year-old Austrian, leads the standings having won three tournaments this year - including Rolex Series events in Italy and Scotland - in a brilliant return from seven months out with a a wrist injury. He will lift the trophy if he wins at Jumeirah Golf Estates or if he finishes alone in second place.
Fleetwood climbed to second place with his win at the Nedbank, his first victory in nearly two years. He won the Race to Dubai two years ago, was beaten to the title by close friend Francesco Molinari in the final round last year, and knows a win in Dubai - coupled with Wiesberger finishing lower than outright second - will see him become European No. 1 once again.
The same scenario faces third-place Rahm this week, and the Spaniard has a strong record on the Earth Course after winning the World Tour Championship in 2017 and placing fourth last year. It is a long course - par 72, 7,677 yards, and with two par-5 holes longer than 600 yards on the back nine. So it suits the big-hitting Rahm, who is the only player to win three Rolex Series titles and has finished inside the top five in seven of his nine Rolex Series appearances.
Lowry, at No. 4, will also win the Race to Dubai with a first place and if Wiesberger finishes lower than tied for second with one other player.
Fitzpatrick is the biggest outsider at No. 5 but has won on the Earth Course in 2016. If he repeats that, he has a chance - although Wiesberger must finish lower than tied for fourth and Fleetwood lower than outright second.
Ranked No. 2 in the world, Rory McIlroy is the leading player in a field that has been trimmed to 50 but hasn't played enough on the European Tour this year to be in contention to be Europe's No. 1 for a fourth time in eight years.
With four wins worldwide this year, and previous wins at the World Tour Championship in 2012 and '15, McIlroy starts as the favorite to claim the winner's check of $3 million - the richest first prize in golf.
The four-time major winner will have long-time friend Niall O'Connor, a former rugby player with Irish province Ulster, on his bag this week because regular caddie Harry Diamond is taking time off to be with his wife after the birth of their first child.
"If there's any week where I don't have Harry on the bag, it's good it's this week," McIlroy said. "I feel like I could play this place blindfolded. I've been coming back here for 10 years. I know the place like the back of my hand."
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Updated November 19, 2019