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    Hero Dubai Desert Classic: Players to Watch

    Here are five golfers to keep an eye on at this first Rolex Series tournament of the year.The DP World Tour’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic, which begins on Thursday at the Emirates Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates, has delivered big-name champions over the past 35 years, including Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy.Will another marquee player walk off with the trophy this time around? Or will someone less heralded emerge from the pack to make an early statement in 2024?Here are five noteworthy golfers:Brian Harman of the United States plays his shot from the 17th tee during the first round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Course last November in Nassau.Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesBrian HarmanWe’ll find out in the coming months whether Harman’s surprising victory in last year’s British Open, winning by six strokes at Royal Liverpool, was a fluke or if he’s able to prove that he truly is one of the game’s top players.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    At the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed Provide Drama

    Last year’s event had a classic battle between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed, players on opposite sides of the LIV Golf debate.Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed have a long history of dueling when it matters most. The rivalry has produced some epic golf matches, the most surprising of which may have been last year’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic, being played again starting on Thursday on the DP World Tour in the United Arab Emirates.At the 2016 Ryder Cup, held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota, McIlroy and Reed were also pitted against each other on the final day of singles matches.The pair traded incredible shots on the front nine, but it was the interplay between them — finger wagging, shushing, cupping ears to rile up the crowd — that many remember. But in a sign of sportsmanship, the two fist-bumped walking off one green. Reed won the match on the 18th hole.Two years later at the Masters Tournament, it was Reed and McIlroy battling again. It’s the one major that McIlroy still needs to win to complete the career grand slam. (He has won the United States Open, the British Open and, twice, the P.G.A. Championship.)Reed had led the tournament since the halfway mark, and in the final round McIlroy was three shots back. Reed won by one shot, six ahead of McIlroy.Their rivalry had highly anticipated showdowns that were fierce and competitive.Then came LIV Golf, and the sport splintered into two rival groups: the ones who went to the Saudi Arabia-backed league and those who stayed loyal to the established professional golf tours, the PGA and DP World Tours.McIlroy became a player spokesman for the PGA Tour, while Reed went to LIV and became part of the 4Aces GC, a team captained by Dustin Johnson.Reed also began suing players and commentators on the PGA Tour who were critical of his decision to leave. In McIlroy’s case, he received a subpoena on Christmas Eve 2022 when he was at home with his family.At last year’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy wasn’t interested in chatting with Reed on the practice range. (Reed flicked a tee at McIlroy after Reed said McIlroy refused to acknowledge him on the driving range.)What was surprising was the intensity of the tournament, which came down to a duel between Reed and McIlroy.Reed’s decision to join LIV Golf made for some tense moments during last year’s Hero Dubai Desert Classic.Luke Walker/Getty ImagesLike its counterpart, the Sentry on the PGA Tour, the Hero is usually a collegial entry into the DP World Tour’s season. Dubai has created a family resort around the courses.As the week advanced, McIlroy and Reed were circling each other in the tournament, and it was clear that the competition had taken on a bigger significance for McIlroy than a regular victory.McIlroy had become the leading PGA Tour player voicing his anger against the players who had gone to LIV. In addition to Reed, McIlroy clashed with Greg Norman, the former world No. 1 who is LIV’s chief executive.“I think Greg needs to go,” McIlroy said before the Hero. “I think he just needs to exit stage left.”After the first three rounds of last year’s Hero, it looked like McIlroy was going to coast to victory. In the fourth round, with a four shot deficit, Reed got off to a hot start. At one point on the back nine he was briefly in the lead. McIlroy drew even after a birdie on the 17th hole.Stepping up to the tee of the 18th hole, McIlroy needed a birdie to win. Hitting his third shot close, he watched the ball roll into the hole before letting out a roar. Reed had mounted a final round charge, but finished one behind McIlroy.“Mentally, today was probably one of the toughest rounds I have ever had to play because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way,” McIlroy said at a news conference. “I just had to really focus on myself and forget who was up there on the leaderboard.”He added: “This is probably sweeter than it should be.”Rory McIlroy, left, and Patrick Reed established a rivalry during the 2016 Ryder Cup when the two played against each other on the final day of singles matches.Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesThe victory had the heightened feel of their Ryder Cup duel. While LIV golfers had been stripped of their PGA Tour membership for joining the rival league, they were allowed to play while a court in England mulled whether the DP World Tour could ban them.A year later, McIlroy is striking a different tone about LIV and its defectors. The shift came after his Ryder Cup teammate Jon Rahm joined LIV Golf at the end of 2023.“Ultimately, you can say what you want and do what you want, but at the end of the day you’re not going to be able to change peoples’ minds,” McIlroy said on the “Stick to Football” podcast earlier this month. He continued, “I wouldn’t say I’ve lost the fight against LIV, but I’ve just accepted the fact that this is part of our sport now.”He said that he was concerned about what the continued division in professional golf would mean for the sport and that he hoped Rahm would still be able to compete in the Ryder Cup. He added that he had been too judgmental of the men leaving to go to LIV.“At the end of the day, we’re professional golfers and we play to make a living and make money, so I understand it,” he said. “But I think it’s just created this division that will hopefully stop soon.”McIlroy’s manager, Sean O’Flaherty, said McIlroy was preparing for the Hero and did not have anything additional to add beyond what he said on the podcast. Reed declined to comment through his LIV representatives.Reed won the Masters Tournament in 2018.David Cannon/Getty ImagesWhile one tournament does not dictate the tenor of a season, what made last year’s Hero interesting to watch was the battle between McIlroy and Reed coming down to the final hole. McIlroy is worried that such competitive battles will become rarer — confined to the majors — and hurt interest in the regular tour stops that rely on big names to draw fans.With many stars and fan favorites gone to LIV, there is less opportunity outside of the four majors for top players to compete. LIV, on the other hand, guarantees that its 48 players will be at every event.“I think what LIV and the Saudis have exposed is that you’re asking for millions of dollars to sponsor these events, and you’re not able to guarantee to the sponsors that the players are going to show up,” McIlroy said on the podcast. “I can’t believe the PGA Tour has done so well for so long.”Others agree. “I think if golf isn’t careful you get to the point where people say, I’m not that fired up to watch the Phoenix Open because Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Rahm are not there,” said Hughes Norton, the agent who negotiated Tiger Wood’s first deal with Nike and the author of the coming book, “Rainmaker: Superagent Hughes Norton and the Money-Grab Explosion of Golf From Tiger to LIV and Beyond.”Already, longtime sponsors, including Honda and Wells Fargo, have pulled out of PGA Tour tournaments. And other sponsors are questioning the increased costs if their tournament is one of the eight signature events, which offer higher purses and guarantee that more elite players attend, but at a cost of an additional $7 million on top of the $13 million sponsor fee, Norton said.“Maybe Wells Fargo said there are six big names who used to come to our events and now they’re not there,” he said. “Sponsors are restless now.”If that’s the case, the sport needs more battles like last year’s Hero showdown. More

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    Mark O’Meara Recalls His One-Stroke Win in Dubai in 2004

    In 2004, he edged out Paul McGinley for the win, with his putt on the final hole in Dubai.In 2004, Mark O’Meara, a two-time major champion, closed with a three-under 69 to capture the Dubai Desert Classic by one stroke over Paul McGinley. After McGinley missed an eagle attempt on No. 18 from over 70 feet, O’Meara two-putted from 12 feet for the victory.It was his first win since capturing the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale in England.It would also be his last.With the Hero Dubai Desert Classic beginning on Thursday at the Emirates Golf Club and his 67th birthday around the corner, O’Meara recently reflected on his memorable week at the club two decades ago, and on a career that resulted in 16 PGA Tour wins. In 2015, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.The following conversation has been edited and condensed.Can you believe it’s been 20 years?I do remember distinctly that week in 2004, going over there with Tiger [Woods]. I think I started going to Dubai in 1998 or 1999. At 47 years of age, to win a tournament of that magnitude was a blessing.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    Golfer and F1 Wag sizzles in bikini as fans laugh about her ‘putting her man to work’ on Thailand holiday

    LILY MUNI HE has sent fans wild as she stripped down to a revealing bikini.The 24-year-old is a professional golfer and is currently dating F1 star Alex Albon.
    Lily Muni He sizzled in a red bikiniCredit: Instagram @lilymhe
    The Chinese golfer competes in the LPGA TourCredit: Instagram @lilymhe
    The beauty dazzled as she soaked up the sun in ThailandCredit: Instagram @lilymhe
    Fans joked she put boyfriend Alex Albon ‘to work’Credit: Instagram @lilymhe
    Lily, who competes on the LPGA Tour, wowed her 766,000 followers on Instagram as she showed off her figure while on holiday in Thailand.
    The beauty soaked up the sun in her boyfriend’s homeland and dazzled in a range of colourful bikinis.
    Fans were left in awe, one said: “You’re stunning.”
    Another added: “OMG, gorgeous.”
    READ MORE IN F1
    But many of her followers were left distracted by a hilarious photo of Albon.
    The Williams driver got an unexpected workout as he carried the couple’s six bags of luggage up some steep steps.
    Many laughed at the struggling Albon, saying: “Alex as your hotel servant is so funny for some reason.”
    A second commented: “Putting that man to work.”
    Most read in Motorsport
    More joked: “Off season training with those bags.”
    Lily and Albon began dating in 2019.
    Lily and Albon have dated for four yearsCredit: Instagram @lilymhe
    Lily is an avid traveller and is often seen around the paddockCredit: Instagram @lilymhe
    The golfer has 776,000 followers onlineCredit: Instagram @lilymhe
    Lily has been called ‘gorgeous’ by adoring fansCredit: Instagram @lilymhe More

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    Mistrust Looms Over PGA Tour as Deadline for Saudi Deal Nears

    Rancor within the tour’s board could shape decisions about the final agreement and influence the sport for decades to come.The PGA Tour is less than three weeks from a deadline to finalize a deal with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that it promised would transform professional golf into a global powerhouse and quiet years of acrimony.But acrimony clearly remains.The plan’s outline called for combining the moneymaking businesses of the PGA Tour, the venerable American circuit; and LIV Golf, the upstart league flush with billions of dollars in Saudi investment. The deal’s announcement on June 6, though, was short on the basics, including a total valuation and even modest support from many players. Six months later, unrest and mistrust are still pervasive inside the PGA Tour, as players, board members and senior executives struggle to repair ties after secret talks that led to the Saudi deal surprised even many in the boardroom.“Since June 6, trust has been broken at the top level,” Adam Scott, who turned professional in 2000 and now chairs the tour’s Player Advisory Council, said in an interview this week. “Nothing has changed to reinstate that trust.”Mr. Scott, the winner of the 2013 Masters Tournament, will assume a seat on the PGA Tour’s board next month. When he does, he will join a group that has lately felt splintered, as players on the board have repeatedly clashed with some outside directors. The rancor may not derail any deal, since many players are open to significant outside investment. But their frustrations with tour leaders — over both the secretive nature of how the deal came together and a feeling that players do not have a strong enough say in how the sport is run — could shape decisions about the details and the future makeup of the tour’s board, influencing golf for decades to come. Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, said at the DealBook Summit last month that players “ultimately are going to be responsible for the deciding vote.”The deal would give the wealth fund a significant stake in American golf as Saudi Arabia pours money into sports to try to shore up its reputation around the word. It faces headwinds outside the golf world, with the Justice Department prepared to scrutinize any arrangement for antitrust violations and senators digging into the tour’s ties to Saudi Arabia, and tour officials have spoken for months with potential American investors.The tour and Saudi Arabia’s wealth funds set a Dec. 31 deadline to finalize their deal, though the sides can extend their talks.A spokesman for the tour declined to comment.The tentative deal with the wealth fund, which came after the tour long insisted that LIV Golf was merely an attempt by the Saudi government to distract people from its human rights record, provoked an uprising among players, many of whom had spurned LIV’s lucrative payouts. The negotiations’ clandestine nature also fueled the anger. The tour sought to curb the revolt in August, when it agreed to add Tiger Woods to the board, evening the count between the golfers and outside directors at six each. And it vowed that the merchant banker Colin Neville, who had already been brought in to advise the players, would “be fully aware of the state of the negotiations.”Mr. Woods’s addition was a boon to the players, who figured his swagger and savvy would give their side more heft in the boardroom. It did. But Mr. Woods’s ascendance did not alter certain realities like, for instance, the voting thresholds required to make significant changes. As expected, it also did not dislodge the two directors who secretly negotiated with the Saudis: the board chairman, Edward D. Herlihy, a partner at the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; and James J. Dunne III, vice chairman of the investment bank Piper Sandler.“I’ve learned that any great board, you need disagreement in order to get to the best solution, and we’ve had many disagreements this year — even the players have had disagreements,” said Webb Simpson, the winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and a member of the tour’s board. “But we’re trying to all get to a better place.”Although tour membership is limited to a fraction of the world’s finest golfers, the players have only so much influence over the appointments of outside directors to the board. That has long frustrated many players, who felt they were put in a subservient position to the independent board members. Worsening the atmosphere, a director many players saw as a good-faith collaborator, the former AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson, resigned after the Saudi deal was announced. (Two players were on a committee that recommended Mr. Stephenson’s successor, Joseph W. Gorder.)Charley Hoffman, also a board member, said many players want more “accountability” from the board.Harry How/Getty ImagesCharley Hoffman, a longtime player who sits on the board, said he thought “the independents have the best interests of the players” in mind. But the tour’s structure ultimately limited players’ sway over their tour, he and others said, a particular sore point after the Saudi deal.“The word I hear echoing throughout the membership is ‘accountability,’” Mr. Hoffman said.Amid this scrutiny, the tour is considering bringing in additional U.S. investors alongside the Saudi wealth fund, which would assure investment in the tour before what could be a prolonged regulatory review of the Saudi deal. The tour said Sunday that it had entered talks with Strategic Sports Group, an investment group led by Fenway Sports Group — the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, the Liverpool Football Club and, years ago, Mr. Monahan’s employer.Fenway would inject $3.5 billion into a newly formed for-profit company that would have a valuation of up to roughly $12 billion, according to two people familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private financial matters. Those terms, like most things with the deal, remain in flux.The announcement last week that the Saudis had recruited Jon Rahm, the world’s third-ranked player, to LIV disappointed and unnerved tour loyalists. It also fueled a surge in infighting, most prominently displayed in a Sports Illustrated article that depicted the golfer Patrick Cantlay as having outsize control over the tour’s destiny. Mr. Cantlay, the article said, “seemed more concerned about catering to elite golfers like himself” and suggested he was the leader of a group “driving negotiations.”Mr. Cantlay is the player on the board with the highest spot in the Official World Golf Ranking (fifth), but other directors downplayed the notion that he was in charge.“He just likes to think deep and see if there’s anything under the rocks that can improve the organization for everyone,” Mr. Hoffman said.Jordan Spieth recently replaced Rory McIlroy on the board.Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesJordan Spieth, a past winner of the British Open, the Masters and the U.S. Open who sits on the board, confessed to bemusement over accounts of Mr. Cantlay as a distinct power center. He thought Mr. Cantlay’s inquisitive, insistent style and vision had unsettled some people inside the tour hierarchy.“He’s challenged people who have been in a position to not be challenged for a long time, and I think that’s upset them,” Mr. Spieth said. “Because he comes from a place of trying to enforce some change where change is inevitable, but kind of do it in a way where the players have a massive role in how it looks, that challenges the status quo and makes him a target.”Mr. Cantlay said his approach to the role had not changed since June 6 and that, “in general, my mentality is just to put my head down and try to get the work done.”Mr. Stephenson is not the only director to have left. The superstar Rory McIlroy resigned last month. Although his replacement, Mr. Spieth, is a well-liked tour stalwart with a record of board service, the turnover has stoked unease.“The dynamic has been shook, obviously,” Mr. Scott said, adding, “The reasons don’t even really matter — at a critical time, that is not ideal.”Some board members believe that once a deal is done, tensions could ease almost automatically, especially if the board’s composition changes.“When we all go back to hitting golf shots and doing what we actually know how to do,” Mr. Hoffman said wryly, “this will all slow down.” More

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    A Look Back at 2023 in Golf: A Year of Drama

    The PGA Tour is looking at LIV Golf, and the L.P.G.A. and Ladies European Tour are on the cusp of joining together.Golf is a sport where certain years stand out above others, and 2023 may prove to be one of those years. It’s a heady list.In 1860, Willie Park Sr. won the first British Open, which was held at Prestwick Golf Club, marking the debut of the oldest major tournament.In 1913, the amateur Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open, beating the two best English golfers of the time, and popularizing the sport in the United States.In 1930, Bobby Jones completed the first and only Grand Slam, winning the four majors of his day in one year.Babe Didrikson Zaharias became the first woman to make a cut on the PGA Tour in 1945, competing in the Phoenix Open and Tucson Open. She went on to dominate that decade of golf.In 1950 the L.P.G.A. was formed.In 1968, a group of professional golfers, led by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, broke away from the Professional Golf Association of America to create the PGA Tour.Tiger Woods completed the Tiger Slam — winning all four men’s major championships consecutively over two seasons, from 2000-1.This year could prove pivotal for the men’s and women’s game, with both of the top tours looking at mergers.Rory McIlroy with fans at Oak Hill Country Club in May. McIlroy resigned from the PGA Tour board last month.Doug Mills/The New York TimesBrooks Koepka on day one of the LIV Golf Invitational in October. He was among the highest profile players to defect to LIV.Cliff Hawkins/Getty ImagesFor the PGA Tour, June 6 signifies a before and after in professional golf. That morning Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, announced a “framework agreement” for the PGA Tour to work with LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed golf league that he had spent much of the previous year disparaging.“I would ask any player that has left or any player that would ever consider leaving: Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?” Monahan had said a year earlier.It was one in a series of comments he and officials made connecting LIV, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (P.I.F.), with the country’s history of human rights abuses.But that day in June, in an about-face, there was Monahan sitting next to the fund’s governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, calling for cooperation.“There are only a handful of people who weren’t surprised given the past two years,” said Kevin Hopkins, vice president at Excel Sports Management. “Not knowing what this is going to lead to is going to be the next headline.”As shocking as this announcement was for golf fans, it was also a surprise to the PGA Tour’s membership, which was largely caught off guard.Suzann Pettersen, the captain of the European team, led her team in their fight for the Solheim Cup in Spain in September. The competition ended in a draw but, as hosts, the Europeans retained the cup.Bernat Armangue/Associated PressThe year in the women’s game was more positive — exciting major championships, the debut of a promising young star, a hotly contested Solheim Cup that ended in a draw between the two teams — but the women’s tour also has a cloud of uncertainty hanging over it.After the L.P.G.A. and its equivalent across the Atlantic, the Ladies European Tour (L.E.T.), reached an agreement to merge, the L.E.T. vote to approve the merger was abruptly postponed. Here’s a look back at a roller coaster year.Behind the scenesThe PGA Tour-LIV announcement looms large for the sheer suddenness of the tour’s reversal and the way that it angered and alienated some of its top players, including Rory McIlroy, who had been one of Monahan’s staunchest allies. He has since resigned from the PGA Tour board.“My reaction was surprise, as I’m sure a lot of the players were taken back by it, by what happened,” Woods said last month at his Hero World Challenge. “So quickly without any input or any information about it, it was just thrown out there.”The move galvanized top players to push for control on the tour’s board. Woods, who now sits on the board, said players wanted to ensure that, going forward, “we were not going to be left out of the process like we were.”For his part, Monahan has expressed regret with how the announcement was made. “The rollout was a failure on my part,” he said at The New York Times DealBook Summit last month. “I’ve owned it, and I’ve continued to own it.”Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, surprised many in June, when he announced a “framework agreement” for the tour to work with LIV Golf.Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesOn the other side, LIV Golf was given a boost, if not a lifeline. The league had been rolled out haphazardly. Its first tournaments in 2022 had been marred by problems, such as the lack of a television deal and team uniforms.The P.I.F. put hundreds of millions of dollars behind the new league, but after the initial wave of star defections to LIV — Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and the then-reigning British Open champion, Cameron Smith — attention shifted to poor attendance at events and a lack of a major media partner to broadcast the events.The June 6 announcement gave the fledging league relevance.“We went from being cast unfairly as outsiders in golf to our chairman sitting shoulder to shoulder with the commissioner of the PGA Tour,” said Gary Davidson, LIV Golf’s interim chief operating officer in 2023. “We always knew that LIV could coexist.”With the L.P.G.A. and L.E.T., their merger talks had been going smoothly. The two tours have been operating in a joint venture since 2020, a period when prize money rose on both tours.This year the two boards negotiated terms for a merger, with the L.P.G.A. effectively taking over the L.E.T. Whether it happens depends on a vote by the L.E.T. players.“The vote has been postponed by the L.E.T. board from its original Nov. 21 date as more time was needed to evaluate all relevant information received,” said Mollie Marcoux Samaan, the L.P.G.A. commissioner. “A new date for the vote has not yet been set. The L.P.G.A. board remains enthusiastic about the opportunity to bring our two organizations together.”Jon Rahm won the first major of the year, fending off Brooks Koepka to win the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April.Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesIn the spotlightBoth the women’s game and men’s game also provided compelling story lines on the course.The first men’s major, the Masters Tournament, came down to a duel between Jon Rahm, a stalwart of the PGA Tour, and Koepka, a multiple major champion who had left for LIV. Rahm prevailed, but in the next major, the PGA Championship, Koepka pulled away from the field to win his fifth major.LIV saw this as validation. “Competing in the Masters and then winning the PGA Championship was massive for us,” Davidson said. “It proved the competitiveness of LIV, that it could prepare the guys well for majors.”(On Thursday, LIV announced that Rahm would join its tour next year.)The five women’s major championships also provided excitement. Lilia Vu won the first and last of the majors, to rise to the No. 1 ranking and claim the player of the year title. Céline Boutier became the first French player to win her home country’s Amundi Evian Championship. And Allisen Corpuz, a young American in her second year on the tour, won the U.S. Women’s Open.Allisen Corpuz notched her first win on the L.P.G.A. Tour in July, at the U.S. Women’s Open in Pebble Beach, Calif.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe L.P.G.A. also got a feel-good story with Rose Zhang, who had long been the No. 1-ranked amateur woman in the world. Zhang turned pro in June and won the first event she entered.“It’s been a whirlwind for her, but she’s done what people have expected her to do,” said Hopkins, who runs Excel Sports Management’s L.P.G.A. practice. “The L.P.G.A. is excited to have her as one of the stars.”Team competition was intense on both the men’s and the women’s sides, but in different ways: The Solheim Cup was close and exciting, while the men’s equivalent, the Ryder Cup, was a rout. Team Europe blew out the U.S. team, which succeeded only in preserving its 30-year losing streak in Europe.There is one wrinkle for future European teams, and that’s the partnership the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour have struck. The PGA Tour has effectively made DP World a feeder tour, granting membership to the top 10 players on its annual Race to Dubai rankings. This effectively culls the best players in Europe.With just weeks left in the year, there’s still the possibility of more drama. While all eyes are on whether the PGA Tour-LIV framework agreement gets signed by year end, questions remain whether the L.P.G.A. and L.E.T. merger will go through too. It’s a fitting end to a tumultuous year. More

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    DP World Tour Winner May Have Barely Played the Tour at All

    This will happen this year at the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai.The DP World Tour will end its season at the championship in Dubai, which starts on Thursday, as it has done for more than a decade. But like the past several seasons, the winner of the Race to Dubai championship will be someone who has played sparingly on the tour itself. In fact, this may be its most anti-climactic finale yet.This stands in stark contrast to the PGA Tour, where its FedEx Cup series funnels golfers into playing as many events on that tour as possible to accumulate points.It wasn’t always this way. The Race to Dubai is an honor that dates well-before the FedEx Cup. It began in 1937 as the Order of Merit. Charles Whitcombe won the inaugural one. Subsequent winners are a who’s who of European golfers, including multiple winners like the Ryder Cup stalwarts Colin Montgomerie with eight and Seve Ballesteros with six.But this year is another in which the closing event feels like a showcase for stars who have been largely absent from the tour. Rory McIlroy, a four-time winner of the Race to Dubai, and Jon Rahm, who won it in 2019, are in first and second place, but after last weekend’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa, no one can catch McIlroy.Of the 43 events on the tour, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, right, has played nine; Jon Rahm of Spain, left, has played seven.Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAnd that makes the disconnect with the season-ending race even starker. The two players are ranked second and third in the world golf rankings. And they’re stalwarts of the European Ryder Cup team. But McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Rahm of Spain have hardly played this season on the DP World Tour. And while McIlroy is set to play in the event, he could skip it and still be crowned the winner for the fifth time.Of the 43 events on the tour, McIlroy has played nine and is in first place in the Race To Dubai; Rahm has played seven to sit in second and the drama has turned to whether they will repeat as champion of the tournament itself. In third place is Adrian Meronk of Poland, who has played 23 tournaments on the DP World Tour.Meronk is a lock to win another prize: full membership on the PGA Tour. This goes to the top 10 finishers in the Race to Dubai who are not already on the PGA Tour, which has higher purses and earns more points for the world golf rankings; it also means Meronk will probably, like McIlroy and Rahm, play more on the PGA Tour than on the DP World Tour next season.Welcome to the new abnormal of golf, in which European Tour champions barely play on the tour. How did we get here? It’s complicated.In the scrambled world of professional golf, with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour working together to stave off the threat from LIV Golf, the new Saudi Arabia-backed league, new incentives abound. And they’re upending the existing order.While there is a tentative agreement with LIV to pause litigation between it and the tours, one of their big concerns is players being lured away with more lucrative LIV contracts. But at the heart of the current agreement between the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour is a system for the highest-ranked players in Europe to play in the United States on the PGA Tour.The leaderboard for the Race to Dubai is the result of two factors: how certain events, like the four majors, are sanctioned by the two tours and thus earn more points; and the higher number of points awarded to other elevated events. Because dominant players like McIlroy and Rahm compete in events with stronger fields, they end up earning more points by playing well in fewer events.In McIlroy’s case, only four of his nine events that got credited toward the Race to Dubai were DP World Tour events; the others were on or sanctioned by the PGA Tour. With Rahm, it was fewer: only two of his seven tournaments.It’s not the first time this has happened. Last year, McIlroy won the Race to Dubai (and Rahm won the DP World Tour Championship) with a similar amount of play on the DP World Tour.In 2021, Collin Morikawa, a full member of the PGA Tour, became the first American to win the Race to Dubai. He also won the British Open, but only played in two other events outside the United States: the Scottish Open (which is also sanctioned by the PGA Tour) and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. In neither event did he finish inside the top 50.By contrast, this year Meronk played the four majors and the other 19 events on the DP World. While he is third in the Race to Dubai, he is ranked only 46th in the world because he earned fewer points from the European events.Victor Hovland of Norway is ranked 14th in the Race to Dubai, but is the fourth-best player in the world rankings. Again, it’s the value of the points. He is credited with seven DP World Tour events, but all but one, the BMW PGA Championship, are also sanctioned by the PGA Tour.At its core, the list of contenders for the Race to Dubai is a mix of players who did well in DP World Tour events and will move up to the PGA Tour, and players who have played well at the majors and other co-sanctioned events. The result is a season-ending tournament and season-long prize that could be more confusing than climactic.Joost Luiten of the Netherlands is close to winning the opportunity to play more on the PGA Tour and thus play less on the DP World tour.Lorraine Osullivan/ReutersIn fact, the real drama may lie with the final player on the P.G.A. promotion list, Rasmus Hojgaard of Denmark, who jumped five spots into 16th place.That spot had been held until the last tournament by Joost Luiten of the Netherlands, who dropped five spots after last week and is now in 22nd place. Both Hojgaard and Luiten have played over 20 events each on the DP World Tour to get an opportunity to play more on the PGA Tour and thus less on the DP tour next season.On the flip side, current PGA Tour players who finish outside the top 125 on the money list get full membership on the DP World Tour, for numbers 126 to 200.When this was announced last month, David Howell, chairman of the DP World Tour’s Tournament Committee, categorized the demotion to that tour as a positive for players. “When we announced our strategic alliance with the PGA Tour in November 2021, one of the prime objectives was to give as many opportunities as possible to members of both tours,” he said. “This is another perfect example of how this is working.”An agent who represents players on the DP World Tour and LIV Golf said that elevating one group to the PGA Tour and demoting another group onto the DP World Tour was further dividing professional golf ranks. It has made it more difficult, the agent said, for many players to gain the world golf ranking points to get them into the majors and other marquee tournaments.“All these PGA Tour events sit way above the European Tour in world golf ranking points,” said the agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid the ramifications of speaking publicly about the Tour. “They had an argument that the depth on the PGA Tour was better than anywhere else, so how could you be top 100 on PGA Tour and 300th in the world. I get it. But that pushed the European Tour into a corner. It made it into this feeder tour.”Next year the format will change and be more like the FedEx Cup, where players qualify for an event and then the field shrinks with each tournament. So it will be 70 players at the Abu Dhabi Championship and 50 players at the final DP World Tour Championship in 2024.What it comes down to is getting the sport’s stars to play in those final European Tour events, regardless of how much they have played on the tour during the season.“The season-long narrative is for the die-hard golf geeks,” the agent said. “The average sports enthusiast just wants to see superstars. The commercial product lives and dies by it.” More

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    DP World Tour Championship Players to Watch

    Here are five golfers to keep an eye on at the year-end tournament.Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Matt Fitzpatrick will no doubt be among the favorites for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, which starts on Thursday at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.Rahm has won the event three times, including in 2022 when he defeated Tyrrell Hatton and Alex Noren by two strokes, while McIlroy and Fitzpatrick have two victories apiece.There are plenty of other top contenders in the 50-man field. Here are five players to keep an eye on.Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesAdrian MeronkMeronk was clearly out to prove something after he wasn’t chosen by captain Luke Donald to represent Team Europe in the recent Ryder Cup matches in Rome.Meronk, 30, of Poland, closed with a 66 last month at the Real Club de Golf Sotogrande to capture the Andalucía Masters, his third victory on the DP World Tour this season. After bogeying two of his first three holes, he went eight under par the rest of the way to beat Matti Schmid of Germany by a stroke.“I’m just glad the Ryder Cup and all the talks about it are over,” Meronk told the media after the tournament. “I can just focus on my game and keep going forward, and whoever doubted me, I hope I can prove them wrong.”Earlier this year, Meronk, who went to East Tennessee State University, became the first player from Poland to make the cut in a PGA Tour event in the United States, tying for 45th at the Genesis Invitational in California. A week later, he tied for 14th at the Honda Classic in Florida.Richard Heathcote/Getty ImagesMin Woo LeeMany fans may not be familiar with Min Woo Lee of Australia.That, however, might be changing. He has been playing well lately, and there’s no reason he can’t keep it up.Over his last five starts, Lee, 25 and ranked No. 43 in the world, has recorded three top 10s, including a win in the SJM Macao Open on the Asian Tour in mid-October. He tied for sixth a week later in the Zozo Championship in Japan.In June, Lee closed with a 67 to finish in a tie for fifth in the U.S. Open. A few months before, he tied for sixth at the Players Championship in Florida.In 2016, he won the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. His biggest professional victory has been the 2021 Scottish Open when he hit about a 10-footer on the first playoff hole to beat Fitzpatrick and Thomas Detry.Lee’s sister, Minjee, is also a professional golfer and took the U.S. Girls’ Junior Golf Championship in 2012. When Min Woo won his title four years later, the two became the first brother and sister to win the junior titles. Minjee has won 10 times on the L.P.G.A. Tour, including the 2021 Evian Championship and the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open.Ross Kinnaird/Getty ImagesRyan FoxLike Lee, Fox of New Zealand isn’t exactly a marquee name, but he has had some excellent tournaments lately.In September, Fox, ranked No. 28, rebounded from an early triple bogey to capture the BMW PGA Championship by a stroke. A few weeks later, he tied for second at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which he won in 2022. Fox, 36, has won four times on the DP World Tour.“I certainly didn’t think I’d be talking to you [as the champion] after the third hole today,” he told Sky Sports after clinching the BMW PGA Championship win. “I’ve always struggled a little bit around here.”He has also struggled in the major championships; he has not recorded a single Top 15 in 18 appearances.Fox, fourth in the Race to Dubai standings, made 13 starts on the PGA Tour this past season. His best finish overall was a tie for 12th at the Genesis Scottish Open.Kelvin Kuo/USA Today Sports, via ReutersTyrrell HattonA member of Team Europe in the Ryder Cup in Rome, Hatton, ranked No. 12, is due. He hasn’t won on the DP World Tour since the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in 2021.Not that he hasn’t had his moments.In July, he tied for sixth at the Genesis Scottish Open. A month later, he tied for 16th at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, and in September he finished a stroke behind Fox at the BMW PGA Championship.He went 3-0-1 at the Ryder Cup, including a victory over the 2023 British Open champion Brian Harman.Hatton, 32, from England, isn’t one to keep his emotions to himself.“I think he’s very quiet in general,” Donald said in a news conference. “He does have a strong personality when he wants to, so there’s always a wisecrack and there’s always a joke. He beats himself up now and again on the course, but you don’t really see that off the course.”Hatton has won six times on the DP World Tour. His lone victory on the PGA Tour came in the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational.Octavio Passos/Getty ImagesRobert MacIntyreOf all the tough losses in 2023, none was tougher than MacIntyre’s loss to McIlroy in the Genesis Scottish Open.MacIntyre of Scotland birdied No. 18 on Sunday to cap off a 64 and assume a one-stroke advantage.McIlroy needed to birdie one of the last two holes to force a playoff.He birdied both, knocking in about a 10-footer on 18.“It’s a sore one to take just now because it is a dream as a Scotsman to win a Scottish Open,” said MacIntyre, who would have been the first Scot to win the tournament since Colin Montgomerie in 1999.MacIntyre, ranked No. 57, finished with a 2-0-1 record at the Ryder Cup. In his singles match on Sunday, he defeated Wyndham Clark, the reigning United States Open champion.MacIntyre has won twice on the DP World Tour. More