DUBAI, U.A.E. — Following the late withdrawal of world number-one Jon Rahm, only six players in the 53-man field gathered in the United Arab Emirates for the last-ever “European Tour” event, the DP World Tour Championship, can finish top of the season-long “Race to Dubai,” what was once the “Order of Merit.” And only two can achieve the latter without winning the former.
Both are Americans. Open champion Collin Morikawa — currently top of the “RtoD” — is one and BMW PGA champion Billy Horschel, 236.2 points behind his compatriot, is the other. Given that fact, Horschel’s task is necessarily the more demanding. Morikawa can finish last on Sunday evening and still be first if Horschel finishes worse than a two-way tie for eighth place. And if Horschel does take eighth place on his own, he can claim the RtoD only if Morikawa does play badly enough to prop up the field.
For the other four players in contention — Tyrrell Hatton, Min Woo Lee, Matt Fitzpatrick and Paul Casey — only a victory over 72 holes this week will give them a chance to end the 47-tournament long journey atop the pile. Even then, they will need help from above. By way of example, Hatton, the best-placed of the chasing quartet, would need Morikawa to end up lower than a three-way tie for third and Horschel to achieve something worse than a three-way tie for second.
None of which seems to be bothering Horschel all that much. Two days before making his debut at this event in what is his first visit to the Middle East, the Floridian was all smiles when chatting to the assembled media, although he turned serious when asked about the current state of the PGA Tour. He didn’t use the word “coasting,” but it quickly became clear Horschel thinks too many of his fellow pros find it comfortable to finish “90th on the money list and pull in a million-plus dollars.”
“It does sound harsh,” he conceded. “It sounds like I’m trying to maybe attack the guys lower on tour, but I’m not. But I’m asking: ‘are you doing everything you can to be the best player you can?’ If you aren’t, we shouldn’t just be giving you handouts because you got your PGA Tour card and you’re not making as much as some other guys.
“We should make the tour more competitive,” he continued. “We would change the way the money pays out where the top 30, 40 guys get paid a lot of money and then you don’t get paid as much down below, so it really pushes guys to really do everything they can to be the best player they can be. Instead of giving out 125 cards every year, we cut it down to 100. And if we cut down the Korn Ferry cards from 50 to 30, you make the fields 120. Now you’re getting the better players week in and week out. Doing that takes care of any other tour that comes along to compete against the PGA Tour or the European Tour.”
Always a fast-talker, Horschel was positively bubbling about the week ahead and the prospect of perhaps playing even more on the new circuit in 2022.
“To be here and experience this amazing place is pretty cool,” he said in temperatures close to 90-degrees fahrenheit. “And to be here and have a chance to win the DP World Tour Championship is something as a kid I didn’t dream about or even imagine. But it’s great to be here. It’s a big golf course. It’s exactly what I’ve seen on TV. If you’re in control of your golf ball, this course lends itself to some low scores. If you have real good control of your golf ball, you can hit a lot of really close shots inside 10, 15 feet and even some tap-ins. I understand now why the scores have been so low here in the past.”
Looking further ahead, and for all his enthusiasm for the Old World circuit, Horschel was careful enough to qualify his desire to compete more outside the United States. All will depend on his form on the PGA Tour. So he could make no firm promises.
“It’s really all dependent on how well I play in the FedEx Cup,” he explained. “If I can get off to a good start in that, it opens up more opportunities to travel a little bit. Right now I think the regular events on my schedule will be the Scottish Open, Wentworth (the BMW PGA), the Dunhill Links and this event. There are a couple we’re looking at possibly playing next year — the Porsche European Open and the BMW International in Germany.
“I would love to play more over here,” he continued. “I’m looking at the next ten years of my career. There’s so many events I have watched on TV. Crans-Montana (the endlessly picturesque European Masters in Switzerland) is one. Valderrama (venue for the Andalucian Masters) is a course I would love to get to. So we’re going to pick a few here and there.”
Sounds like a plan, one with the right kind of motivation.
“What motivates me is winning a trophy, having a chance to do something no one else has done before,” he said. “It’s winning a green jacket. It’s winning the Claret Jug. It’s winning the Players. It’s winning the Order of Merit, the Race to Dubai. That’s what the fans care about. They want to see the energy, how much passion the players have for winning the event.”
Indeed, winning takes care of everything. Especially this week.