2012 Race to Dubai: Players to Watch on This Year's Tour

Richard SmithContributor IIIJanuary 5, 2012

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 11:  Luke Donald of England holds the Race to Dubai Trophy after finishing in third place that secured his title during the final round of the Dubai World Championship on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates on December 11, 2011 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
David Cannon/Getty Images

The 2011 Race to Dubai was won by Englishman Luke Donald, who in the process became the first player in golf history to win tour titles on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year.

There were many impressive aspects to Donald’s win but one that really catches the eye, from a European perspective at least, is the fact that he finished well over a million pounds clear of Rory McIlroy in second place but played six fewer events! In fact, Donald only played 13 European tour events in 2011, and considering he never won a major, his runaway success becomes even more profound than it first looks.

Donald plays much of his golf on the US Tour, of course, and will do so again in 2012, however, he will play at least 13 tournaments again in Europe, which should put him in contention for repeat success in 2012, particularly if he maintains the same level of consistency in his game.

Interestingly, the only other player to finish in the top 15 in the Race to Dubai in 2011 with just 13 appearances was Spain’s Sergio Garcia, who finished in eighth place. This was quite a remarkable performance from the Spaniard considering he had tumbled down the rankings over the past couple of years.

Garcia is now back in the top 20, having won twice on tour in 2011. He must be in with a real chance of challenging for top honours once again this term and is sure to improve on his eighth place finish in the Race to Dubai.

Others who will undoubtedly feature in the Race to Dubai include McIlroy, particularly as he has pledged more playing time in Europe this year. The defending US Open champion has finished second twice in the first three years of the renamed European Tour and will no doubt be looking to go one better in 2012.

Lee Westwood, the No. 2-ranked player in the world and winner of the tour in its inaugural season two years ago, will also be among the favorites to claim the crown. Many will say that as is the case with Luke Donald, Westwood's priority this year will be to win a major, however, the 39-year-old likes nothing more than being No. 1 in Europe, and he will be playing all out to be so.

Martin Kaymer of Germany and Charl Schwartzel of South Africa will also be serious contenders. They have both won major titles over the last couple of years and both sit in the top 10 of the world rankings. They finished third and fourth, respectively, in 2011 and will no doubt be leading contenders again over the next 12 months.

Spain’s other leading players, Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jimenez, were both top-15 finishers in 2011 and should be capable of at least achieving that again this time around. 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and the three Scandinavians, Anders Hansen, Peter Hanson and Alexander Noren, should also be competing.

However, the same cannot be said regarding 2011 Open champion Darren Clark, whose form slumped alarmingly after he claimed his first major at Royal St George back in July.

Two outsiders worth watching in 2012 include Simon Dyson, who won twice on tour in 2011, which helped him to finish 10th in the Race to Dubai, and Graeme McDowell, who finished outside of the top 15 in 16th place but is a much better player than that and should be in contention throughout the coming year.

It should not be forgotten that all of these players will be looking for Ryder Cup selection, which will in many cases add extra interest to the golfing year, with most of these players undoubtedly wanting to make the European team bound for America to defend the Ryder Cup in September.

The 2012 Race to Dubai starts this week as part of its co-sanctioning with the Sunshine Tour in South Africa. Three tournaments there kick off the tour before it heads back to the Middle East throughout February. The first event on European soil is the Andalucía Open in March.