Just a fortnight remains of the inaugural Race to Dubai, and while there are two counting events this week, the main protagonists prefer this long-established co-sanctioned affair to taking on Tiger in Australia. While Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood will be looking to tighten their stranglehold on the race ahead of next week’s lucrative finale, this will be the final event of the season for most of the Europeans in this line-up. Only those inside the top 60 on the money list will go forward to Dubai, and equally significant is the battle further down the list to retain full playing privileges for 2010.
 
Fanling has been a happy hunting ground for Europeans ever since this event joined the schedule in 2001. The travelling contingent provided all seven winners until Wen-Tang Lin emerged victorious from a memorable play-off last year. Lin’s victory was also significant in that he was the first genuine outsider to win here, although the odd shrewd tipster did pick him out. Previously, the rollcall of champions had been Olazabal, Jacobsen, Harrington, Montgomerie, Jimenez (twice) and the slightly less obvious Jose-Manuel Lara.
 
So there’s plenty to suggest the winner will be fairly predictable again, but that doesn’t make our task significantly easier. Such is the strength in depth here that the one concrete conclusion I’ve drawn is to ignore the obvious claims of McIlroy and Westwood. Quite simply, at 9/1 and 11/1 respectively, they are too short. Remember, McIlroy has just one career victory to his name, and Westwood one in over two years. That said, McIlroy was extremely unlucky to lose last year’s play-off and looks a very strong candidate after Sunday’s brilliant finish.
 
Having earmarked Ian Poulter as a big improver several months ago, reminiscent of Paul Casey a year earlier, I’m slightly concerned about missing the boat. Its easy to be philosophical about not backing him in Singapore, because his form had to be taken on trust after a break, but if he wins again quickly it will be hard to not be very frustrated. However, an equally valid perspective is that Poulter won in Singapore largely because his putter was on fire under pick and place conditions, rather than due to any long game brilliance. Nor was he particularly impressive in Shanghai last week, or when missing the cut on his sole previous visit to Fanling.
 
On the other hand, all that GRAEME MCDOWELL‘s near miss in Singapore suggested to me is that he remains overdue a change of luck. At one stage during the back-nine, McDowell was odds-on favourite, before a poor finish handed the tournament to Poulter and robbed us of a full place payout. That’s easily forgiven, and everything about McDowell’s record in this region points to another big week. In the last two years at Fanling, McDowell has finished sixth and 11th, so after a week off he should be full of confidence about the task in hand.