Race to Dubai in hands of Molinari and other talking points ahead of DPWTC

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Ryder Cup partners and best friends Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood are the only players who can win the Race to Dubai title at Jumeirah Golf Estates this weekend.

With Molinari holding a commanding 1,025,166 lead in the rankings, Fleetwood needs to win the DP World Tour Championship and the Italian to finish outside the top five to have any chance of retaining his European number one status.

Here, we look at the key talking points ahead of the tournament.

Magnificent Molinari

The Italian has taken his game to a different level this season, with three tournament wins, including a first major at the Open Championship in July.

To add to his stellar season, he also made history by becoming the first European to win all five matches at the Ryder Cup last month.

With formidable finishes of 13-16-4-4-17 on the Earth course since 2013, it looks highly-likely the 36-year-old will cap off the finest year of his 14-year professional career and clinch a maiden Order of Merit title.

Of course, Fleetwood is a class act but his chances of upsetting Molinari in the battle to become European number one looks slim.

Uphill task for Fleetwood

Fleetwood was in Molinari’s position last year and almost lost out to world number two Justin Rose, who held a one shot lead with seven holes to play.

Rose went on to bogey three of the next five holes and needed to eagle the 18th to beat Fleetwood, but his long-range attempt veered left and the title was Fleetwood’s by a slender 58,821 points.

Even if the 27-year-old does not win the DP World Tour Championship this weekend, he has still enjoyed a majestic season, including a successful title defence at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and two runners-up finishes at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and US Open – the latter of saw him close with a record-equalling 63 to finish one shot behind winner Brooks Koepka – and eight other top-10s.

The Southport native is fast becoming the most likable player in the game and can further enhance his stardom with a solid finish in Dubai this weekend.

What next for McIlroy?

The Northern Irishman announced on Tuesday that he is set to give up his European Tour membership in 2019 to focus on PGA Tour events.

The 29-year-old, who is a three-time Race to Dubai champion, will spend most of his time in America because the Players Championship and PGA Championship have been brought forward to March and May respectively.

As it stands, McIlroy has only two European Tour events on his schedule for next season and if he sticks to this, it would eliminate him from Ryder Cup captaincy discussion in the future as per a new tour ruling.

The Northern Irishman heads into the tournament this week on the back of one tournament win, three runners-up, three top-five and three top-10 finishes this season.

Although he has no chance of winning the Order of Merit crown for the fourth title, his impeccable 3-5-11-1-5-2-1-9 record at Jumeirah Golf Estates proves he could be a serious contender on the final round come Sunday.

Westwood returns to form

The Englishman’s stunning win at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa last week saw him return to the winners enclosure for the first time in four years.

The 45-year-old finished the event on 15 under par, three strokes clear of second place Sergio Garcia, to seal his first win since the Malaysian Open in April 2014.

It was also his first victory achieved without caddie Billy Foster on the bag, the pair having split recently after a 10-year association together.

Instead Westwood’s girlfriend fulfilled the role, having done so when the Nottingham native was beaten in a four-way play-off for the Made in Denmark tournament in September.

In fact, Westwood looks revitalised with the change and will undoubtedly add a pep in his step as he looks to finish his season on a high this weekend.

His best ever result at Jumeirah Golf Estates was a win back in 2009. Can this year’s Ryder Cup vice-captain replicate that sparkling form?

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