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Win a huge boost for Rory

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 26-11-2015


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In this week's column, Sky Sports' Robert Lee looks back at Rory McIlroy's Race to Dubai victory, reflects on Paul Casey's decision not to rejoin the European Tour and looks ahead to the season-opening Alfred Dunhill Championship. 

It's time to reflect on another incredible season on the European Tour. But there's not much time for reflection, as the new season starts four days later in South Africa. That's pretty unbelievable - it would be nice to wait until the New Year, but that's the modern-day golf schedule for you.

Last week we witnessed a cracking end to the season in Dubai, and Rory McIlroy once again proved his class as he ended the campaign as European No 1 for the third time in four years.

Danny Willett gave McIlroy a great run in the Race to Dubai, and Andy Sullivan pushed the world No 3 all the way in a fantastic finale. Sullivan has won three times this year, but he was really in the big time in Dubai. He was in the last group with McIlroy and it was a great way for both to end the year. 

The way McIlroy salvaged a bogey at the par three 17th and held on after all that Sullivan threw at him made for superb viewing. Rory was two shots ahead with two to play and then hit it 50 yards right into the water, but somehow he made a four after holing a 40-footer and went on to win by a shot.

Good spirits

That will do wonders for him as he goes off for a nine-week break. The top guys like Rory are addicted to winning, and when they go a while without a victory it becomes a bit of a concern sometimes. He knew this was his last event before Christmas, so to end on a high like that - he can now enjoy the festive season and come back in good spirits in Abu Dhabi.

One of the keys to his victory was an improved putting performance, converting many of the chances he has passed up on several occasions over the year. Sullivan also holed a few and the top two were a distance above the rest. All aspects of Sullivan's game were in fine order and McIlroy knew he had to have his A game.

He played well without due reward over the first two rounds, but he knew he wasn't far away and it all clicked at the weekend as he shot 65, 66. As well as he putted, his driving was awesome. He averaged over 320 yards from the tee and most of them split the fairway. He makes golf look ridiculously easy when he's driving the ball that well.

Rookies on Tour

This week, the new season begins with the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, and it's a great way to start for the rookies. The guys that have their cards for the first time will relish playing Leopard Creek, which is an amazing place. It's one of the most stunning venues on the Tour, with so many animals roaming free around the Crocodile River.

Paul Dunne is one of those teeing it up for the first time as a full European Tour member. The Irishman was incredible for three rounds at The Open, and he enjoyed a good Walker Cup as well before he turned pro. And after all that, he got through two stages of Qualifying School to earn his card - that's a great achievement.

I was also delighted to see Matthew Southgate get his card at Q-School. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July and underwent surgery shortly afterwards. He returned to action in September, and he managed to come through all three stages of Qualifying School to get his card. It was one of the heartwarming stories of the week in Spain.

You always look for the rookies to do well, and they will be inspired by what Matt Fitzpatrick achieved last season. He was a Q-School graduate this time last year, and what a first season he had. His British Masters win was magnificent, and his tie for fourth on Sunday was his 10th top-10 finish of the year - lifting him to 12 in the Race to Dubai.

Casey staying away

There are those who are determined to shine on the European Tour, and then there is Paul Casey, who announced at the weekend that he would not be re-joining despite European Tour supremo Keith Pelley reducing the minimum number of required events to five, outside of the majors and WGCs.

There's an event called the Ryder Cup next year, and the prospect of playing in that for a fourth time should have been enough for Casey to come back on side. When he gave up his tour membership it was because he was struggling to play enough counting events being based in the US with his family. Fair point, but now there's only five to play and he's back in the world's top 25.

Personally I don't understand his decision. He could win a major or two next year, and that would put Casey in a really awkward position. But he's made his choice - he doesn't want to play on the European Tour, and that rules him out of the Ryder Cup.

At least his absence will not have any impact on the result at Hazeltine, nobody is going to say if only Paul Casey was in the team. We've got enough good players competing for places. I'd be desperate to play in the Ryder Cup if I was him, and I suspect he'll be watching it from his couch at home feeling pig sick that he's not there but at the end of the day Paul is doing what he wants to do. 

Farewell Ivor

Meanwhile, the DP World Tour Championship was the final event of a long and distinguished career for legendary starter Ivor Robson. He is simply a European Tour institution, and for 41 years he's been on the first tee at all the big events, immaculately dressed right down to his black, patent toed leather golf shoes.

There have been some comical stories involving Ivor over the years, and the stories about him not having a call of nature until the final group of the day had teed off are absolutely true. He was super fastidious about his diet and how much water he took on so that he didn't get caught short on the tee.

Everything comes to an end, and Ivor's been an integral part of the European Tour for so long. He was never intrusive and always super professional. Great, great guy, and an era has passed. Happy retirement Ivor.

Robert's Sky Bet Tip:

Lucas Bjerregaard should be a great story this week, and over the coming season. He was in contention at this event last year until he had an absolute meltdown on the final nine holes, coming home in 50. His form has been great over the last couple of months, so he can go back to Leopard Creek and look for redemption.

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