The Punter's De-Brief: Fleetwood pips Rose to the R2D as Rahm wins another title

Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood – the two main protagonists in the R2D
Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood – the two main protagonists in the R2D

Tommy Fleetwood has won the Race to Dubai, John Rahm the DP World Tour Championship, and Austin Cook has broken his duck on the PGA Tour. Read our man's reflections on the week here...

“Sergio Garcia, having won the US Masters and the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, had a decent chance to win the Race to Dubai but he decided not to bother playing in China, Turkey or South Africa, and Rose decided not to play the penultimate event either! How can golf fans buy in to such a ‘race’? A race in which participants with a chance of victory decide not to enter!”

The 2017 European Tour season ended in just the way the organisers would have hoped with the Race to Dubai going right to the wire with Tommy Fleetwood claiming the title when Justin Rose failed to eagle the 72nd hole of the DP World Tour Championship.

Following victories in Abu Dhabi and France, Fleetwood had held a commanding lead in the R2D up until a month ago but back-to-back victories in China and Turkey by Rose made for an interesting finale and Rose had looked by far the most likely winner for much of the weekend. The Olympic champion was matched at just 1.434/9 to win the DP World Tour Championship but he lost his way on the back-nine and it was left to Spain's Jon Rahm to cruise through and hit the front for the first time with just two holes to play.

A birdie at 16, after a slightly fortuitous drive, put the young Spaniard in the driving seat before he made a pair of pars at 17 and 18 for the win. He began the week trading at around the 15.5 mark but he was well-backed before the off.

Over in the States, Chris Kirk was matched at 2.01/1 when he got to within a stroke of the third round leader, Austin Cook, but instead of applying more pressure, Kirk completely messed up the par five seventh, recording a bogey six having been just 39 yards from the hole in two, and although J.J Spaun briefly challenged (hit a low of 2.68/5) Cook was able to coast home impressively for a comfortable four-stroke win.

Cook graduated to the PGA Tour from the Web.Com Tour and this was just his 14th PGA Tour start in total so it not surprising to see that he was a largely unconsidered 160.0159/1 chance before the off.


My Bets

Rahm was my sole pick before the off in Dubai but it hasn't been a spectacular week. My stakes were only modest on the Spaniard and as highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I also backed Matthew Fitzpatrick and Fleetwood in-running. And I drew a blank in Georgia.

I had a reasonable wager on Brian Gay at halfway and he was very disappointing over the weekend but I did manage to claw those stakes back by laying Kirk, who I'd backed at 23.022/1, at 2.56/4 after he'd birdied the sixth.

Race to Dubai Reflections

I'm not a big fan of the Race to Dubai format or for that matter, the FedEx Cup, but I'll leave the PGA Tour's money race aside for now. I can moan about that another time.

I understand the R2D's purpose, to inject some interest at the end of a long season, but it fails for me on a number of levels.

Firstly, I don't really care who wins. I was mildly pleased it was Tommy instead of Justin, as he feels more closely associated with the European Tour at present and he clearly wanted to win it but had Rose prevailed instead of Fleetwood it wouldn't have adversely affected my mood for more than a millisecond.

My emotional investment in what is basically a contest to see which millionaire adds to his wealth the most (albeit highly talented millionaires) is just about zero but what really gets my goat is how the whole thing is hyped up when the players in-contention don't even seem to care that much.

Sergio Garcia, having won the US Masters and the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, had a decent chance to win the Race to Dubai but he decided not to bother playing in three of the last four events, in China, Turkey or South Africa, and Rose decided not to play the penultimate event either! How can golf fans buy in to such a 'race'? A race in which participants with a chance of victory decide not to enter!

I understand that fatigue is an issue (although hard to argue in Sergio's case) and to his credit, Rose toyed with playing in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. He made a very good argument for siting it out but can tiredness and scheduling really be reasoned strongly when Garcia and Rose (and Fleetwood) are lining up in Hong Kong on Thursday? And the irony of it is, they're no doubt making the trip to Fanling to either appease sponsors or to collect appearance money.

I don't blame them for one second; they've worked hard to be able to collect extra riches via sponsorship etc., but please don't expect me or any other golf fan to buy in to a money race concept that the players themselves aren't even that bothered about. That said, it's definitely something we need to think about.

The fact that he didn't play in the Nedbank demonstrated his lack of commitment to winning the R2D but when it came to the crunch yesterday, on the back-nine, I do think it had a negative effect on Rose's game and Tommy Fleetwood clearly found it hard to focus last week. He started tardily on Thursday and after he missed a sitter for back-to-back birdies on the second hole yesterday, he lost his way again.

Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson have both won the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai in the same season but they've been nicely clear in the standings and it felt like the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake - no big deal and no problem. For Justin and Tommy in particular, it felt like a distraction that hindered them and that's worth bearing in mind when betting on the DP World Tour Championship. The fact that Rahm had zero involvement in the R2D was a significant plus.

What Have We Learned This Week?

Rahm ranked fourth for Driving Distance and Rose ranked first so power of the tee was again a big advantage but as it so often does, it all came down to putting it what's basically a birdie-fest. The front three had a Putting Average ranking for the week of third, second and sixth.

Victor Dubuisson is one to follow if he's in the field next year. After the disappointment of not being able to hang on in South Africa last week, he started the tournament far too slowly but he's really well-suited to the course and he matched the winner's score for the last three rounds to finish 13th.

Over at the RSM Classic, another outsider prevailed and it was another Web.Com graduate following the success of Mac Hughes in the event 12 months ago. The two winners had remarkably similar profiles. Cook was playing in his 14th PGA Tour event with a World Ranking of 302 and Hughes was playing in his ninth with a ranking of 287.

I'll be back tomorrow with a preview of the aforementioned UBS Hong Kong Open.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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