Collin Morikawa and Billy Horschel battling to become first American Race to Dubai winner

American duo in running for historic title at DP World Tour Championship

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Two and a half years into his professional career, and Collin Morikawa has already accomplished what the majority do not in a lifetime.

Currently, he ranks as the second-best golfer in the world, helped no end by his sublime victory at the Open in July. That was not even Morikawa's major breakthrough — his first title came in only his second major start, at last year's US PGA Championship. But he quickly had two, all at the ripe old age of 24.

Also this season, he added a first World Golf Championships crown and went unbeaten in September on Ryder Cup debut, gleaning 3.5 points from a possible four.

And, just before his 2021 concludes, he might just squeeze in another bit of history: Morikawa goes into Thursday’s first round at the DP World Tour Championship at the head of the Race to Dubai rankings. Prevail, and he becomes the first American to be anointed European No 1.

“No pressure, right?” Morikawa replied on Wednesday, when he was presented an honorary life membership by the European Tour, the 57th player to be granted such a privilege.

Pressure or not, it must provide plenty of reassurance that Morikawa recorded a top-10 finish during his tournament bow in the season finale 11 months ago.

“I was here last year, and we had a shot at trying to win the Race to Dubai,” he said. “Didn't come through. It's comforting to come back to a course I've played at before.

“Nothing has really changed. My game feels really good right now. And it's exciting. I'm not taking this week lightly. I've put a lot of work in the last week, the past couple days to be ready and to come out here and play as best as I can.”

“I think I said this last year: you don't know how many chances you're going to get to win a Race to Dubai, and I've been very lucky to play well this year in a major and the WGC to get me in that position. But I want to come out here and win. If I win, it takes care of everything.”

Morikawa says he “doesn’t take lightly” the opportunity of being the first from the United States to land Europe’s Order of Merit. It just so happens he has company in that particular race; compatriot Billy Horschel sits second in the standings, 236 points behind. Should the current front-runner have an uncharacteristically bad week, eighth could be enough for Horschel to steal in and take the trophy.

The pair, two of six players still in with a shout of winning, go out together, in Thursday’s final group.

Asked if there’s been any inter-American rivalry brewing, Morikawa said: “You can make it what it is. I'm here to win the tournament. If I just beat Billy Horschel, that's not going to guarantee me the Race to Dubai. I'm trying to take care of my business.

“If I win this week, we know what's going happen. The only time I've ever looked at trying to beat an opponent was the Ryder Cup.

“When it comes to tournaments like this and you have a chance to win a season-long race like the Race to Dubai, you can't think about that. You can't worry about the what-ifs or what points might add up. You just got to go out and play your best. The goal is to win the tournament.”

Unlike Morikawa, Horschel hasn’t contested the tournament before. In fact, the 2014 FedEx Cup winner has never even been to Dubai.

“It's a cool place,” he said. “Obviously I've watched this event and Dubai Desert Classic and a few other events over here on TV. But to be here and experience this amazing place is pretty cool.

“And to be here at this event, the last one on the European Tour calendar, to have a chance to win the DP World Tour Championship is something as a kid I didn't dream about or even imagine.

“And then to add possibly the Race to Dubai, be the first American to win the Order of Merit, obviously by far would be the best of my career.

“There's a lot on the line this week, and we'll see how it all plays out when it comes Sunday.”

Updated: November 17, 2021, 5:27 PM