Top players lining up for crack at Dubai title

DAVID V GOLIATH: Ian Poulter is backing Paul McGinley to come out on top in the battle of the Ryder Cup captains.
DAVID V GOLIATH: Ian Poulter is backing Paul McGinley to come out on top in the battle of the Ryder Cup captains.

With the buzz around No 1-ranked Rory McIlroy, some of the other big names playing at the Dubai World Championship can get forgotten.

The two-time major winner has already wrapped up the European Tour money title and is the favourite to win the season-ending tournament. But several other Ryder Cup stars, including Ian Poulter and second-ranked Luke Donald, would like to cap off their seasons with a victory.

There are others, too, including South African newcomer Branden Grace, who know a strong finish could help them move up the rankings and qualify for a major in 2013.

A top-30 finish gets them into the British Open, top 15 into the US Open and a top 10 on the money list gets them a share of the $3.75 million in bonus money.

The 13th-ranked Poulter, who struggled earlier in the year, has played some of his best golf since helping lead Europe to the Ryder Cup victory over the United States in September.

After his putting fueled the come-from-behind victory, Poulter has gone on to win the HSBC Champions for his second career World Golf Championships title. He also finished second last week at the Australian Masters.

"I'm looking forward to this week," said Poulter, whose penalty in a two-way playoff cost him a shot at the 2010 Dubai title. "I guess I'm in some pretty good form, so feeling like we can end the year on a very high note and move further in the world rankings which would be very pleasing."

The challenge for Poulter is translating the success he has had at the Ryder Cup into more consistency on the PGA and European Tour. He had four wins in four matches at Medinah and his 12-3 career record is the highest winning percentage of any European golfer in history.

"I can produce and it is within me," Poulter said. "It comes out in the Ryder Cup. So why shouldn't I be able to produce that week in, week out. I guess I have done the last three weeks. We just have to see how long we can keep doing it for. When you look at the best players in the world, they are doing it week in, week out. So there is no reason why I shouldn't sit among those guys."

Donald arrived in Dubai last year on the cusp of making history as the first golfer to win the PGA and European Tour money titles. This time around, he is overshadowed by McIlroy, who has repeated the 35-year-old Brit's feat but at a much younger age.

Still, the Chicago-based Donald has also been playing better after he did his part in the Europe's Ryder Cup win. He beat Bubba Watson at the Ryder Cup to launch Europe's comeback and arrives on the heels of winning the Dunlop Phoenix Open, his first victory in Japan.

It was his third title of the season following wins on the PGA Tour and European Tour and allowed him to overtake Tiger Woods for the No 2 ranking.

"I think we always want to be at this event and come back here after what I did last year brings back a lot of great memories," said Donald, who finished third last year in Dubai to clinch the Order of Merit title.

"It's an event with the top (57) guys from the year and another chance to obviously play against some of the best players in the world and try to win a tournament," he added. "I'm excited to be here. Not just because this is my last event it's more opportunity to get some success before the end of the year."

Several of the rising stars of the tour also are looking to cap career seasons. The 38th-ranked Grace picked his first four victories this season on the European Tour and a good showing could see him crack the top 30.

"It's been a great year, if I put into words it would be a dream come true," Grace said. "One thing led to another, once I got my first win everything led into the other, that's how it happens. The year's not over. The course is in great shape and I think this is a long hitters golf course so if you can get out there, you should be able to score around this place."

Then there is the big-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts, who won a second victory on the European Tour in 2012 and is counting on a strong showing in Dubai to move up one spot into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai.

"My season has been far better than my expectation already so this would be the icing on the cake," Colsaerts said.

Looking ahead to next year, the 30-year-old Belgian said he would like to put in a better showing at the majors, especially those on American soil. He tied for seventh at the British Open but missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for 27th at the US Open.

"One of the things we want to figure a little better in is the majors, the WGC's the big events and compete with the strongest field," he said. "I've made the top 10 in the Open Championship last year but I haven't made a big impression in a big tournament on US soil."