More often than not, the European Tour’s end-of-season DP World Tour Championship comes with a host of intriguing storylines. This year, however, brings one in particular with potentially historic implications. Never before has an American golfer topped the Old World money/points list – what used to be more elegantly known as the Order of Merit – and taken the Vardon Trophy back across the Atlantic. As a new era of co-operation between the European and PGA tours begins, the possibility of the first US victory in the Race to Dubai is real indeed.

That enticing opportunity beckons most strongly for Patrick Reed [above] or Collin Morikawa (two other Americans, Sean Crocker and John Catlin, are also in the mix). Reed enters what will be his eighth appearance on this season’s European Tour armed with a 460-point lead over second-place Tommy Fleetwood. Victory this week would guarantee either man the top spot, as it would for Morikawa, who starts in third place, or two-time past-champion, Lee Westwood, who is fourth.

Mathematically at least, as many as 61 of the 65-strong players competing on the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates could potentially end the 38th tournament of this unique start-stop-start European Tour season as the Race to Dubai winner. With that comes the biggest share, $US500,000, of the $US1.25 million bonus pool for the year-long competition.

Only Viktor Hovland (fresh from victory in the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic), Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson and Jazz Janewattananond are playing for “just” the $US million first prize in the tournament proper. In a one-off gesture by tour chief executive Keith Pelley, all were added to the previously exclusive field through their positions inside the top 75 on the world ranking.

Four others – Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Victor Perez, Aaron Rai and Tyrrell Hatton – could also clinch the Race to Dubai title by finishing first on Sunday, but only if Reed finishes worse than second place by himself. From there, the permutations get awfully wonky.

All of which is the good news. Less heartening is the absence of a few famous names. Last year’s Race to Dubai winner, Jon Rahm, four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy, former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, former Masters winner Adam Scott, rising Aussie star Lucas Herbert, Ryder Cup player Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Abraham Ancer and current Open champion Shane Lowry are just some of those who decided against making the trip to the Middle East.

Replaced by a mixture of youth and experience – the likes of Jamie Donaldson, Eddie Pepperell, Marcus Kinhult, Connor Syme, Grant Forrest, Scott Jamieson and Benjamin Hebert – the starting line-up, which contains six Major champions, remains strong. Just not as strong as it could have been in such a prestigious event, one boasting the European Tour’s biggest payday.

Still, none of the above was bothering Morikawa. The PGA champion, making his maiden appearance in a regular European Tour event, has so far amassed all of his Race to Dubai points in World Golf Championships and Majors. Thus, a unique record is within his grasp. The 23-year-old Californian could be the first player of any nationality to win the European moneylist without actually setting foot in Europe. All of which was only adding to his determination to become what he called a “world player”. Already, Morikawa has signed up for European Tour membership in 2021 and he will return to Dubai for next month’s Desert Classic.

Collin Morikawa, walking with his girlfriend Katherine Zhu during a practice round at the DP World Tour Championship, is making his first start this week in a “regular” European Tour event. [Photo: Andrew Redington]
“I’ve put myself in a really good position to close out 2020 on a great note,” he said. “To be here and make this my first start on the European Tour means a lot. But I don’t think winning the Race to Dubai would mean the most. Yes, it would mean a lot for my career, for myself. It would be a huge confidence boost. But I want my game to travel. I don’t want to just play in the US my entire life. I want to be able to bring my game anywhere, adapt to the different places I come to and this is just the first step towards doing that.”

Such optimism was, however, tinged with realism about the recent past. Since winning the PGA at TPC Harding Park in August, Morikawa has only one top-10 finish in eight starts (a T-6 at the limited-field Tour Championship) a run he described as “scrappy”.

“It hasn’t been great,” Morikawa, seventh in the world ranking, admitted. “For me it comes down to my head, the mental side. After the PGA, I was tired and burnt out. And I didn’t set new goals. I was almost complacent. I felt good after the Major win. Which doesn’t mean I was OK with it and satisfied with just one. But I was satisfied for at least the next few weeks. That bled into the FedEx Cup playoffs and after that the Masters. But I’ve had three weeks off before this week. I’ve done a full reset.”

As for Reed, the former Masters champion who finished second in the DP World Tour Championship two years ago, is perhaps even more energised by the obvious incentives available this week. The regular visitor to the European Tour finished T-3 two months ago at the BMW PGA Championship and has long lived up to Morikawa’s definition of a “world player”.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to not only win on the PGA Tour but also on the European Tour,” Reed said. “And to win the FedEx Cup as well as the Race to Dubai. To get one of those goals that I’ve set for my career, especially this early, would be great. It’s an amazing feeling to be in this position. Especially this year, it’s been amazing to still be able to travel overseas and have a chance to come here and play. I’ve always enjoyed coming over. I feel like the guys like having me here – and the fans have always been very supportive. So to win this tournament and win the Race to Dubai would mean a lot.”