Euro Tour finale in Dubai far from perfect

Rory McIlroy during the pro-am prior to the start of the Dubai World Championship.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – At least the plot line and characters are in place. Hopefully that will make the denouement to the European Tour season a good story.

If the Tour has to rely on the setting to sell its vaunted Race to Dubai (more commonly known as the European Tour money list), then it’s in big trouble.

Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Ross Fisher all enter the final event of the season hoping to take home the honor of European No. 1. The tour is hoping it comes down to the final putt.

If it does, then it won’t matter a jot what the course is like, or the setting.

Ready for the permutations of who can become European No. 1 for 2009? Here we go:

• McIlroy’s task is simple. If he wins, then he becomes King of Europe. He also takes the title if Westwood is outside the top 7, Kaymer outside the top 4 and Fisher the top 2, regardless of how the precocious Northern Irishman plays.

• Westwood also becomes European No. 1 if he wins. He also can take the title if he is second and McIlroy finishes third or worse.

• Kaymer tops the money list if he wins. He also can become champion if McIlroy and Westwood are not first or tied for second and Fisher does not win.

• Fisher has to finish first or second to have a chance. However, he still can lose the title if McIlroy or Westwood places runner-up.

The European Tour’s dream scenario is that all four have a chance on Sunday. “I hope The Race (to Dubai) comes down virtually to the last putt on Sunday afternoon,” said George O’Grady, European Tour chief executive.

As for the surroundings, well, O’Grady would rather not dwell on the setting for the Tour’s first Dubai World Championship.

Your TV sets probably won’t give you a true picture of the setting for the championship. No doubt that European Tour productions have been given good instructions on making the Earth Course as presentable as possible.

That should be no problem – they’ve had a lot of practice in turning pigs’ ears into silk purses over the years.

So cue tight pictures of the golf course, a few selected villas and the hospitality units around the 18th hole. Don’t expect any broad vistas.

Think construction site and you get an idea of what the Earth Course is like now. This course, clubhouse and surrounding area were supposed to be complete for this championship. It’s still a work very much in progress. The worldwide credit crunch took care of that.

To get to the course, you have to dodge construction trucks carrying all sorts of building materials. The drive is through ugly desert terrain that was supposed to house villas. Magnolia Lane, it is not.

Around the course you find villas in various stages of construction. Work on the clubhouse hasn’t moved since last March.

As one European Tour official said: “We’ve had to paper over a lot of cracks.” O’Grady at least owned up to the trials and tribulations of staging this event.

“No one is denying it’s been a challenge this last year to get to where we are,” he said.

Of course, O’Grady can’t be blamed for the worldwide credit crunch. He wasn’t to know when this deal was announced last November that the Dubai economy would tank along with much of the rest of the world's. Prize money for the tournament and the bonus pool has been reduced from $10 million to $7.5 million. That’s nothing to be sneezed at, and O’Grady has to be given credit for keeping the event alive when many thought it was going to go under.

Indeed, he remains “extremely confident” that Leisurecorp will honor the five-year contract that it signed to host the tournament.

As far as the golf course is concerned, it might look good on television, but don’t expect Europe’s elite to hurry back here.

Course designer Greg Norman said he’d had good feedback from players on the 7,675-yard, par-72 layout. Turned out that Padraig Harrington was the only player with whom he’d spoken. Had he talked to others, he might have had some evasive answers from players too polite to tell the truth.

“Awful.”

“Not worthy of the season-ending event.”

“Boring.”

These are among the comments I’ve received from just a perfunctory walk along the driving range. All off the record, of course, because under Euro Tour rules players aren’t allowed to criticize courses.

This is a resort course, so the fairways are a mile wide and the rough practically non-existent. Look for a bomber with a score of at least 18 under to win this week.

And if the four protagonists are in the mix and one wins, then that will make up for a lot of sins.

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