BELEK, Turkey – The inaugural eight-event Rolex Series has done exactly what it was designed to do this year for the European Tour: keep the tour’s big names at home.
This week’s Turkish Airlines Open begins a three-week stretch run, culminating with the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (tee times: http://bit.ly/2z2zJIs).
European Tour leaders know that at certain times of the year, the PGA Tour’s events are not as popular or well-supported by the European players. That gives the home tour an opening to lure top Europeans to events that offer purses of $7 million and up.
The winners of the first five Rolex Series events attest to the elevated stature, as all rate among the top 20 in the Official World Golf Ranking: BMW PGA (No. 16 Alex Noren), HNA French Open (No. 19 Tommy Fleetwood), Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (No. 5 Jon Rahm), Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open (No. 20 Rafael Cabrera Bello) and the Italian Open (No. 17 Tyrrell Hatton).
Now, the spotlight shines on Turkey’s Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort on the Mediterranean coast, with the last push toward the Race to Dubai, OWGR and Ryder Cup points.
For England’s Justin Rose, who overcame an eight-stroke deficit on Sunday against No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson to win the WGC HSBC Champions in Shanghai, this week offers much more meaning.
“I was very aware that I needed to play some special golf in my last three events,” Rose said here Wednesday. “I'm not playing [the Nedbank Challenge in] South Africa next week. So, for me, it was always going to be China, then here in Turkey and then obviously take a week off just to go home and see the children and play Dubai. The simple math was I had to win at least two of them. So, part one is done, anyway. But it's really now about focusing on the next two events that I have to make a difference … it was certainly on my mind, and I knew that I had to play some great golf to catch Tommy.”
That would be Tommy Fleetwood. The Englishman sits comfortably atop the Race to Dubai (standings: http://bit.ly/VgywIq), due in no small part to victories earlier this season in Abu Dhabi and France.
With his success this year, Fleetwood, 26, finds himself on the fast track to a first Ryder Cup appearance next fall in France.
“If you had said at the start of the year, you're going to be doing press conferences at the [British] Open as one of the favorites to win it, and you're going to be in Turkey leading the Race to Dubai and people asking you how you're feeling, I would have said, ‘All right, yeah.’ ”
Rose and Fleetwood are joined by Henrik Stenson, the 2016 Open champion and Olympic silver medalist, plus the hottest player on the European Tour, Hatton, a winner of two consecutive events in October.
“It's like most courses: you need to hit the ball straight,” Hatton said. “I think last year, a lot of guys didn't drop many shots. If you're dropping shots, then obviously it's going to make it hard for yourself, but there's plenty of opportunities. I imagine scoring will be pretty low, and you certainly need the putter to be hot.”
With a sunny forecast for all four days and an elite field, Hatton’s prediction for low scores could be right, which would suit the growing number of Turkish golf fans.
And while good weather often aids low scoring, this week’s high stakes will help to motivate.
“I think the motivation of winning tournaments at this stage in our careers, that's what keeps us moving forward,” said Stenson, a 41-year-old Swede. “In this competition, you've got to keep on moving forward. Otherwise those young guys are going to come up and beat us more often than we want to. It's really about focusing on the things that matter.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli