The European Tour winds down for the year this week at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai with a close battle over who will win the Race to Dubai and be crowned the No. 1 golfer in Europe.
After 42 tournaments in 23 countries, the winner walks away with a portion of the record $9 million in prize money.
Here are five players to watch.
He is one of this year’s breakout stars. Zalatoris, 25, of the United States, tied for sixth at the United States Open, eighth at the PGA Championship and won the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year. Most notably, Zalatoris crashed onto golf’s center stage when he took second at the Masters, losing to Hideki Matsuyama of Japan by one stroke
“This past year has been pretty crazy,” Zalatoris said in an interview. “But it’s all good stuff. It’s been a lot of fun. Augusta is the one I’m most proud of, though. Just knowing that I can put myself in that position and be in contention and handle it. It’s nice to know that you can do stuff like that. It’s motivating.”
Zalatoris, who is No. 11 in the Race to Dubai, has been working on distance control, but said there is no secret to his success. “The good is really good,” he said. “We just need to make the bad a little bit better.”
Fitzpatrick, 27, of England is the defending champion and comes to Dubai fresh off a win at the Andalucia Masters in Spain, making for a total of seven wins on the European Tour.
“I really think my game is trending in the right direction,” he told reporters recently. “Playing well in the next few weeks, I’ll hopefully have some good results.”
Fitzpatrick, No. 6 in the Race to Dubai, said it was important to manage the amount of pressure he puts on himself and to be patient.
“I think for me it’s just about trying to have consistency throughout the whole four aspects of my game,” he said. “This year it’s been driving and putting, but my approach play’s been off, so hopefully I’ll get that to a better level and keep going with that.”
Morikawa, 24, of the United States, made his Dubai debut last year and is leading the Race to Dubai this year.
“I’ve put myself in a pretty strong position to win,” he said in a phone interview. “Now, I’m trying to get prepped, just like any other event. I’m coming out trying to win. It’s going to be a great field of players. I’ve seen this course, and I know what to expect.”
Morikawa is working on “a few small things,” he said. “Some things are physical, and some things are mental. It’s just about getting a little sharper. It’s the end of the season, and sometimes you get a little too relaxed. So it’s just about staying sharp when you’re out there.”
Morikawa, who has won two majors and five tournaments on the PGA Tour, is trying to pare his approach to the game.
“You try to think back to when you played well and try to put yourself in that situation and realize what you did. You try to be consistent and keep a routine. It’s about being simple and thinking simple things when you’re out on the golf course. Sometimes that’s not so easy. I can’t think about protecting my lead. I just need to go out and hit the target.”
Bland, of England, made headlines in May when he took his first European Tour win at the British Masters at 48 years old.
After grinding his way through 478 tournaments over more than two decades, Bland finally won. He’s been on a hot streak ever since, with six top-10 finishes that place him at No. 8 in the Race to Dubai.
What did Bland change in his game to achieve the recent results?
“I haven’t done anything different,” he said in a phone interview. “I think it was just my time. It’s hard to explain why a win didn’t happen earlier. I just carried on playing well since the win. I haven’t changed the way I practice. I’m not trying to do anything different. Everything just clicked into place, and then you get the confidence of winning. It just snowballed from there.”
Comfort, consistency and a clear head work for Bland. “I’m not a big tinkerer, or changer of things,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, then don’t try and fix it. If your game is in good shape, then just go play. I don’t want too many thoughts going around in my head.”
Min Woo Lee
Lee, 23 of Australia, is the latest to crack the Race to Dubai top 10 after three recent performances on the European Tour. He tied for second at the Andalucia Masters, tied for eighth at the Portugal Masters and tied for fourth last week at the AVIV Dubai Championship. The results place him at No. 5 on the Race to Dubai.
“I was going to take this week off, but I thought my form was pretty solid and it would be another challenge in front of me and I could overcome it,” Lee said in a statement. “It is tough, I haven’t been home in six months, but I’m looking forward to going home and relaxing.”
Earlier this season, Lee notched his first two wins on the tour, narrowly edging out Fitzpatrick at the Scottish Open and finishing two shots ahead of Ryan Fox of New Zealand at the ISPS Handa Vic Open.