McDowell, Kaymer to battle it out for ‘world player of year’ honour
HOW consoling it is right now to recall how an Irishman recently bailed out the rest of Europe. That precious moment came at September's Ryder Cup when Graeme McDowell added his name to the list of Irish heroes in the event.
US Open champion McDowell, the match-clinching hero at Celtic Manor, and US PGA winner Martin Kaymer both have the chance to crown a season of stellar achievement this week by winning the Race to Dubai.
Inevitably, the European Player of the Year award will go to he man who finishes on top of the Order of Merit after next Sunday afternoon's climax to the Dubai World Championship.
Yet it's a measure of the burgeoning strength of the European Tour that McDowell and Kaymer also will be competing for the notional title of World Golfer of the Year on the Earth Course.
Since the dawn of the Tiger era in the mid-90s the world's best player usually is assumed to be either Woods himself or the man who finishes top of the US Money List or that year's PGA Tour Player of the Year, like Padraig Harrington after his Major championship double in 2008.
Yet Tiger's stunning demise in the past 12 months has contributed to a sea change in the game.
With Lee Westwood at No 1 in the world rankings, five of his fellow Europeans in the top 10 and three of the four Major titles won by European Tour members this year, the megabucks on offer in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup don't buy as much prestige as they used to.
As golf becomes more global and the balance of power shifts away from the USA, world ranking points have taken primacy over the dollar as the sport's strongest currency.
And with so many of their members crowded around the top of the world ladder, the pendulum inevitably will swing ever-further in the European Tour's direction.
Take FedEx Cup winner Jim Furyk for example. He landed a staggering $11.35m jackpot the Sunday he won the US Tour Championship in Atlanta, boosting his earnings for the year to $16.8m. Yet in the past 12 months he has climbed just four rungs up the rankings ladder to world No 6.
By winning the US PGA and three other events on the European Tour in 2010, Kaymer's €3.3m in prize money is a fraction of Furyk's haul, yet he has soared eight places to No 3 in the world and, depending on Westwood's performance, could even go top if he wins next Sunday.
After three victories on the European Tour this year (the US and Welsh Opens plus the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama), McDowell is the only man who can catch the German in the Race to Dubai. Currently €290,911 behind Kaymer, the Ulsterman has three chances on the Earth Course.
If either man claims the €900,000-plus first prize in the tournament on Sunday, he'll double that money to €1.8m as winner of the Race to Dubai. Should McDowell come second, Kaymer must finish third to retain his lead in the Order of Merit, though a place anywhere in the top 20 will suffice for the German if the world No 9 takes third place in the tournament.
In either eventuality, the European Tour will be the winner as two of its members grapple for bragging rights as they effectively become the world player of the year in its season-ending event.