By Kent Gray at Jumeirah Golf Estates
A powerful two-man Spanish Amarda (of sorts) will set sail around Earth just after lunchtime on Thursday hoping to launch an audacious assault on the Englishmen atop the Race to Dubai standings.
In keeping with tradition, pole-sitter Tommy Fleetwood and his nearest order-of-merit challenger Justin Rose will be last off in the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates at 12.40pm.
Newly crowned European Tour Rookie-of-the-Year Jon Rahm will tee it up 10 minutes earlier alongside compatriot Sergio Garcia, the only other player in the running for the Race to Dubai title, albeit an unlikely mathematical chance that requires the Masters champion to win and for Fleetwood and Rose to bomb.
Fleetwood starts the 48th and final event of the European Tour season with destiny in his own hands. The reigning Abu Dhabi and Open de France champion needs to equal or better Rose’s finishing position to seal the title. So long as Rose doesn’t finish solo fifth or better and Garcia doesn’t win, Fleetwood is also be guaranteed to be European No.1.
Thursday’s other marquee groups include Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton (12.20pm), Alex Noren and Rafa Cabrera Bello (12.10) and newly crowned Nedbank Challenge champion Branden Grace with Francesco Molinari (12 noon).
Matthew Fitzpatrick opens the defence of his DP World Tour Championship title at 11.50am alongside the Austrian Bernd Wiesberger.
Ian Poulter, who only slipped into the top-60 field courtesy of the injury-enforced withdrawal of past DP World and Race to Dubai champions Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson, will hit the championship’s opening tee shot at 7.40am in a pairing with fellow Englishman Paul Waring.
Fitzpatrick admitted it was nice to come into week “flying under the radar” despite bringing the shiny trophy with him.
“This is also my first time defending on the same golf course, as well, to be honest. It’s kind of exciting in a way. But yeah, you’re right, obviously the main focus is Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose and Sergio trying to win The Race to Dubai,” he said.
“That will take the main focus, there’s no doubt about that. Like you say, it’s nice to sort of probably come in under the radar, and I feel like I’m playing quite nicely, so you never know.”