Did you forget? It’s Race to Dubai time

Padraig Harrington catches a ball during a practice round at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Runners, take your marks.

The Race to Dubai may have started last November, but the final leg starts in the auld grey toon this week at the $5 million Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

The majors are over, the FedEx Cup is done and dusted, and European golfers are thinking of winning the yearlong marathon that ends with the Dubai World Championship.

Even those straggling behind the front-runners are hoping to make up ground this week.

For Padraig Harrington, this week marks the first time he truly can focus on the Race to Dubai since the gun went off last year.

“The makeup of the season is pretty good, now that you have four majors and then you have a FedEx Cup and then the Race to Dubai,” Harrington said.

“I’m fully in the Race to Dubai now. I’ve got five events left to give myself a chance of winning that. I probably need to win two of those five events and a few other things to go right. The goal at the moment is the Race to Dubai.”

Harrington has just returned to Europe after a long stretch chasing down the chance to win the FedEx Cup. The Irishman played four weeks out of five, and could have been forgiven for wanting some time off. Dubai scotched that notion.

“It would be very easy for me to be tired and disinterested, but with the Race to Dubai I’m motivated and ready to go,” he said.

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Lee Westwood tees off from the 18th tee during a practice round at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Lee Westwood could have played for Great Britain & Ireland in last week’s Vivendi Trophy. However, he decided to rest for this week and feel fresh for the final lap of the Race to Dubai.

“It’s (the Race to Dubai) in most people’s thoughts right now,” Westwood said. “We have some massive events coming up that could affect the outcome of the Race to Dubai. I’ve obviously got to play myself into a good position, which is just about all you want to do at this part of the year. We’ll see what happens over the next five weeks, six weeks.”

Only the top 60 on the European money list after the UBS Hong Kong Open qualify to play in the Dubai World Championship for a prize fund of $7.5 million, and a bonus pool of similar value. No wonder those 61st and worst are desperate to crack the top 60.

“I am miles away from making Dubai at the moment, and I have another four or five events to try and get there,” said Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth, who is 94th on the European money list.

“I need to do very well to get to Dubai, but that is my goal now for the rest of the year.”

Becoming European No. 1 wasn’t Rory McIlroy’s goal at the start of the year. Then he won the Dubai Desert Classic and his goals changed.

The 20-year-old is third on the money list behind Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey, but both are out with injuries.

“This is a good week to make up some ground,” McIlroy said.

“I got off to a great start this year, and I don’t think I’ve ever been out of the top 10 in the Race to Dubai this year. So it’s always sort of been there for me to look at and think to myself, I’d really like to win that. It’s been in the back of my mind all season.

“If you do win the Race to Dubai or a money title, you know you’ve played well the whole way through the season without having too many hiccups along the way.”

McIlroy got used to finishing No. 1 during his amateur career. No one would be surprised if the precocious Northern Ireland teenager won Europe’s biggest race in only his second year as a professional.

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