Rory McIlroy wins the Race to Dubai and Lydia Ko the Race to the CME Globe in last weekend’s season finale to the European and LPGA Tours.
The European Tour’s season-ending finale: the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, played host to the top 60 European Tour players as they competed for the Tour Championship as well as the overall Race to Dubai bonus of US$1.0 million.
Hot favourite and world number-3, McIlroy, playing in the last pairing with overnight leader, Englishman Andy Sullivan, went on to win a thrilling encounter by just the one shot. That it was so exciting was tribute not only to McIlroy’s stunning final round six-under 66, but also to the doggedness and skill of underdog Sullivan.
More than once McIlroy’s power and precise iron game threatened to have Sullivan founder in his wake, which would have met most pundits predictions of how this year’s final round would play out, except no-one told Sullivan. Time and again, he would match McIlroy’s attempts to break away. Three times McIlroy birdied only to see Sullivan sink a clutch putt to maintain his one-shot advantage. Once, when facing what looked like a two-shot swing, Sullivan had a crucial chip from rough and above the hole, some 20 yards away. If he managed to get up and down for two, he would limit the damage to just a shot. He holed it for par.
Birdies for McIlroy on 12, 14 and 15 saw him finally edge out to a two-shot lead at the par-3 17th. What happened next was inexplicable. McIlroy, with six-iron in hand and most of the Emirate state’s dry land to his left, proceeded to block his shot 40 yards right, into water. Sullivan then put his shot safely on, offering a possible birdie or certain par.
From the drop zone McIlroy’s wedge bunted his ball to about 30 feet. A two-putt would give him a double-bogey five, and, assuming Sullivan two-putts for par, a share of the lead with one hole to play. At this point Sullivan turned to his caddie and said, “I expect him to hole this.”
McIlroy’s one-shot lead was good enough to take the title and the order of merit crown, thus ensuring a GBP2.1 million payout. Not a bad way to end an otherwise frustrating year for the Northern Irishman.
The top three in the men’s game seem to have put some distance between them and the chasing pack. Next year’s battles between Speith, Day and McIlroy offers much, providing all three stay fit.
She was the LPGA’s rookie of the year in 2013, their player of the year in 2014, and now she repeats that feat in 2015. But she didn’t have it all her own way in the season-ending Race to CME Globe in Naples, Florida, last weekend.
Starting the last round two-shots adrift of the leaders at 11-under, Ko’s expected challenge never got started as she struggled with an errant putter for most of the day. Notwithstanding, she still put together an even-par round of 72 to claim a tie for 7th, enough to give her the Race to the CME Globe title as well as the coveted LPGA Player of the Year.
As intended the season finale was dramatic, with final outcomes not known until the very end.
Winning the season-ending championship was 38-year old veteran Cristie Kerr, who broke from a condensed leader-board when she brilliantly eagled the par-five 17th, giving her a one-shot cushion which she maintained with a par at the last. It was Kerr’s 18th career victory.
World number-2 and Ko’s closest challenger, both in the Race to CME Globe as well as Player of the Year, Inbee Park, finished just the one shot ahead of Ko, in 6th place. Had Park finished three shots better, she would have won both the Race and POY.
When Ko, playing in the penultimate group, had a four-footer lip out at the last hole for bogie, she thought she had blown it. But it was not to be. “I said if I could choose one of the awards, I would choose player of the year,” Ko said. “To know that I am the player of the year, it’s an awesome feeling.”
Veteran Cristie Kerr on Ko winning the Player of the Year, for a second time, aged 18; “I don’t think she’s the age she is,” said Kerr, who at 38 is more than twice Ko’s age. “She’s such an old soul. It’s hard to believe she’s that young. … There’s that saying, `Youth is wasted on the young.’ They don’t know what they have until they are my age, right? But she has such a great, easy disposition about her. She puts everybody around her at ease. I think she’ll be that way for the rest of her life.”
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan offers an interesting insight into the teenage phenom.
“I don’t know how to describe what Lydia Ko is doing,” Whan said. “I mean you know sometimes when you’re watching history and you sort of tell yourself, I’m watching history, but I don’t really grasp it when I’m standing in the range talking to her. And if you play a practice round with her or pro-am you grasp it even less. Because she doesn’t seem to be caught up in it at all.”
For Ko, that really is the key.
A final thought on tour-ending finales: both the European Tour and LPGA season-ending events are a joy to watch, uncomplicated and drama-packed. A pity the PGA Tour, complete with their obscene US$10 million winner’s bonus, struggle to replicate this.