Kaymer-McDowell battle caps dominant European year

Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer

Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer

The magic number is 290,911.

That’s on Graeme McDowell’s mind this week as he enters the Dubai World Championship. That’s the number of euros that stand between him and Germany’s Martin Kaymer in the race to top the European Tour’s Order of Merit.

The Northern Irishman needs to finish the €5.5 million ($7.5 million) season finale in third place or better to stand a chance of overtaking Kaymer. Third place will earn him €355,036. Second pays out €606,896, while first place is worth €910,348.

A 5th-place finish in the UBS Hong Kong Open helped McDowell narrow the gap, earning €76,689 for his performance. More importantly, it proves he is a man in form heading into the European Tour finale.

“I’m within touching distance now,” McDowell said. “I’ve got to play well, simple as that. I can’t control Martin’s ball. I can only control mine. . .

I have a few things to brush up on before Thursday, but all in all, I have been driving the ball great, which is key to next week, and I’m feeling really good about my game.”

For a second consecutive season, the race comes down to the wire. Last season, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood battled in Dubai to claim the number one spot, with Westwood just prevailing.

McIlroy, also of Northern Ireland, has a favorite in this year’s contest.

“Graeme has been playing great, Martin has as well, but I think Graeme has got the edge a little bit,” McIlroy said. “He is finishing strong and hopefully he can go and do it.”

A race to the finish by arguably the two best Europeans in 2010 is all the European Tour could ask for. McDowell enters Dubai as U.S. Open Champion, while Kaymer won the PGA Championship. Throw in Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen, and the tour can boast three of this year’s four major championships.

Moreover, Europe holds the Ryder Cup. Westwood is world No. 1 and five other Europeans occupy the top 10 spots on the Official World Golf Ranking. You have to go back to the days of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam for an era in which Europe was so dominant in golf.

So even if a battle between Kaymer and McDowell fails to materialize over the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Estates, rest assured that European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and his team will be all smiles in the city of gold this week.

They couldn’t have asked for a better year.

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