IN Rory McIlroy's continued absence, the European Tour's Final Series, which resumes today on Turkey's Mediterranean Coast, seems like Hamlet without the Prince.
After a phenomenal summer in which he won two Majors, a World Golf Championship and Europe's mid-season showpiece, the BMW PGA at Wentworth, McIlroy's lead in the Race to Dubai is virtually unassailable.
The World No 1 was perfectly entitled to take a three-week break after such heady achievement.
It's tough on the sponsors of the $7m BMW Masters, $8.5m HSBC Champions and this week's $7m Turkish Airlines Open that, despite massive seven-figure prize-funds, there's no compelling competitive motive for the 25-year-old to play in any of their events.
That McIlroy's excellence this season rendered the first three of Europe's final four events virtually irrelevant to his bid to win the Race to Dubai indicates a glaring flaw in the format of their end-of-season Series.
As McIlroy tries to follow the Tiger Woods formula of keeping his schedule as tight as possible, thereby maximising his chances in the Majors, WGCs and other select events, it's the duty of the respective Tours and tournaments to make it nigh-impossible for him not to play.
Jamie Donaldson, Sergio Garcia and Marcel Siem must win on Sunday and again next week to have an outside chance of overhauling McIlroy.
"Mathematically, we're still in there," said Garcia. "Our chances aren't great but there is a possibility, so we'll give it our best shot until it's over. Hopefully we can make it tight."
German Siem was more blunt. Asked if there was any prospect of catching the Ulsterman, he said: "Not really. Rory's playing Dubai next week and if he plays half-decent, nobody has a chance."
Still, other issues must be resolved, as Shane Lowry will attest. At No 15 in the Race to Dubai standings, right on the outer limit of the bonus pool, and No 51 in the world, on the cusp of his first appearance in golf's elite top -50, the in-form Clara man has much to play for.
With 1.666m points available to Sunday's winner, Lowry is less than one million behind second-placed Donaldson and only one million ahead of England's Eddie Pepperell, 60th in the Race to Dubai, the current cut-off point for next week.
Padraig Harrington had a 'Eureka' moment as he prepared for the penultimate tournament of his worst year as a professional, this week's $6.1m OHL Classic at Mayakoba on Mexico's Caribbean coast.
In his brilliantly candid 'Tour Diary' on his Facebook page, the Dubliner at last admitted he needs to lighten up on himself.
"As bad as my weekend was," wrote the Dubliner, who tied last at the Sanderson Farms Championship after two rounds of 76 in Jackson, Mississippi, and a nightmarish quadruple-bogey nine at the 12th, "some good actually came from it.
"I noticed during my round on Sunday that I'm being very hard on myself. I'm finding something wrong with nearly every shot I hit, even if it's a good one.
"When I think back over the years, that is the total opposite to what I've always done.
"I've always been able to see the good in everything.
"When I noticed this and got back to my old self, I felt a lot better about things. I've always said to people that if you are smiling when you go up to your ball, then you'll get a better lie.
"I've been analysing every shot and looking for something wrong with it. I'm happy to have discovered this. While it was a poor weekend's play, it was worth it to find this out."
After sinking to 353rd in the world, losing his card in the US, failing to make Europe's Final Series and registering just one top 10 and 13 missed cuts this year, Harrington might just have taken a crucial step on the road to redemption.
Watch out for the 43-year-old down Mexico way.
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