With the European Tour in the middle of its mid-summer hiatus, Ben Coley looks ahead to the closing months of the campaign.
Players to watch...
One of the most talented youngsters in Europe, Langasque has the potential to become the finest French golfer in history. While still a maiden on the European Tour, he's currently inside the top 20 on the Race To Dubai in what's just his second season on the circuit, the first having been fairly miserable. In the interim he picked up a first professional title in France and he could make it two in Paris come October. There are other opportunities, notably in Switzerland where he led at halfway en route to seventh in 2016, shortly after turning professional. An elite iron player, truth be told he could pop up anywhere and if he doesn't win this year, watch for him in 2020.
Another bright young thing who has gone close this year, notably in Germany when leading by a couple late on in the BMW International Open. Nerves clearly got to Schwab on that occasion and he's suffered a hangover from it since, but a break will have done him good and so will the experience of leading on the back-nine in the fullness of time. He's yet to win as a professional and may have to wait until 2020, though the KLM Open, Dunhill Links, Scandinavian Invitational and European Masters all look good chances for one of the more accurate players around. Given that he also has top-10 finishes in the European Open and Czech Masters, a late-season surge is well within his capabilities.
Rapidly closing in on world's top 100 after a T6 finish in The Open, MacIntyre has Scottish golf fans purring at the prospect of a genuinely world-class talent in the making. He has work still to do, but runner-up finishes in the British Masters and Made In Denmark have helped make this a standout rookie campaign and he was wise to turn down a chance to play the Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour. So far, MacIntyre remains at his most dangerous in events like these, where cool, breezy conditions make for a more authentic test, and he'll be one to watch in the Dunhill Links in particular.
It's been a hit-and-miss season for this Spanish sensation, with runner-up finishes in Kenya and at Valderrama alongside nine missed cuts. A big-hitter who hits a lot of greens, when the putter fires he's a danger to all and you'd think the Portugal Masters would be an ideal test given his skill set and the straightforward, easy-to-learn nature of the long-time host venue. His victory in the final event of the Challenge Tour season last year suggests that the DP World Tour Championship may also be on the radar and he's almost done enough to guarantee his place in that field. Another who should put all this experience to use in 2020 - if not before.
Although he's not quite kicked on from victory alongside Thomas Pieters in last year's World Cup, Detry has at least added consistency to his game this season having made 13 cuts from 15 starts in 2019. The fact that he's yet to better eighth is the frustration, but this massive talent who makes birdies for fun seems likely to contend before the year is over. Green Eagle in Germany looks his best chance, as he was 13th there last year when arriving in poor form, but watch for him in the KLM Open, too. That's played in the Netherlands, next door to his native Belgium, and he defied a slow start to take third place in the event last September albeit at a different course.
Another who will have eyes on Green Eagle is Smith, who won there in dramatic fashion two years ago. Injuries and a loss of form have hindered him since, but the fightback is on thanks to four top-10 finishes in six starts prior to the Irish and Scottish Opens, in which he disappointed. Smith is probably better suited to parkland golf owing to his long, straight driving, and it's only an unruly putter which has kept him from doubling his tally of European Tour wins. Also proven in the desert, it wouldn't be a surprise if he won once or even twice before the end of the season and he's strongly fancied to climb from his current perch of 52nd on the Race To Dubai.
Anyone who saw the Scottish Open will know that Johnston has been to hell and back in his battle with depression, and the hope is he can use that top-five finish as a springboard to get back to his very best now that off-course matters appear in hand. With a child on the way, he could be one to benefit from the nappy factor at some stage but whatever the case, it's good to see such a popular player doing what he does best. One of the finest iron players around, look for him to pop up when conditions are tough, with the Scandinavian Invitational catching the eye in the coming weeks.
One of the most frustrating players on this good earth, Pieters is back outside the world's top 100 now despite starting the season in encouraging fashion. Rankings-wise, this is as low as he's been since winning the Czech Masters and the KLM Open back-to-back in 2015, and the hope is that plus the beginning of the Ryder Cup battle helps focus the mind. It's a good time of year for Pieters, whose three European Tour wins have all come either in the last week of August or the first fortnight of September, and he should expect to play well in the Czech Republic on his return to action. From there, he could yet remind us all what he can do - this is a world-class talent masquerading as a mid-tier European Tour player. Enough is enough.
If it feels like Kaymer has been fighting for something all year, that's because he has - and that will remain the case until November. Currently 61st on the Race To Dubai, he's far from certain to make the DP World Tour Championship as things stand while at 91st in the world, he's so close yet so far from the game's elite, which is where he belongs. As a former winner of five of the 15 events remaining, opportunities are plentiful and as I've been writing for months now, Kaymer is quite clearly close to his best again. It may be that one win is all that's needed to return him to not just being elite, but being prolific among the elite. Keep the faith.
With missed cuts in four of his last five starts, it's clear that Dubuisson's early-season promise has faded a good deal. Still, there are reasons to be optimistic. First and foremost, he has played 13 events in 2019, withdrawing only once, and that includes four in succession prior to The Open. Given his prior struggles for fitness and a general lack of interest, that bodes well and supports the idea that he really is motivated again, which he has said more than once. As with Pieters, he's a former Ryder Cup player who belongs much higher up the rankings and if he does need help focusing the mind, a return to Maxx Royal, scene of both European Tour wins, should do that. At 98th on the current Race To Dubai standings, he has work to do to earn a place in the field for that valuable prize and a personal hat-trick bid and he'll also be keen to make the Nedbank, where he's capable of contending.
The new Open champion earns a mention here not because we know what to expect, but because we don't. So often, winners of majors who were not previously at the very top of the sport struggle to adjust and fall victim to the trappings of fame and fortune, and it'll be interesting to see which way Lowry goes. My suspicion is that he'll get the balance right, revelling in his victory for a while before getting back to business. Lowry's number one goal is to qualify for the Ryder Cup next year and being Open champion won't help him with qualifying yet to begin. It gets under way at Wentworth, where he boasts an excellent record and may well be a threat providing he's not still hungover.
We'll finish with two players close to the top 110 on the Race To Dubai but currently on the outside looking in. First, Ross Fisher's name rather stands out, as a decade ago he was contending for each and every major on the schedule and a year later he performed well in a victorious Ryder Cup side. This multiple European Tour winner was no worse than 66th in the Race To Dubai/Order of Merit from his debut campaign in 2006 to last year's 33rd, yet is now ranked 121st. The KLM Open may be his best bet but Wentworth is home, so he'll also be eyeing the valuable points on offer there having been working hard over the last few months. Expect him to do enough to get inside the top 110 one way or another.
Currently ranked 115th, which would just about be enough to keep a card, Slattery has shown clear signs that he's ready to move forward over the coming months. In Ireland, he started and finished well for 27th, while a week later in Scotland he shot 64-64 to lead heading into the weekend. Unfortunately for those of us on him at 300/1 there, he finished ninth when eighth would've been enough for a payout, but the bigger picture is a positive one for a player whose two European Tour wins have been in October and September.
D&D Real Czech Masters - August 15-18
Andrea Pavan will defend his title at the Czech Masters at Albatross Golf Resort in Prague. The Italian putted the lights out to win in 22-under last year, beating Padraig Harrington, but don't be fooled: this 7,500-yard course remains one of the most big-hitter friendly on the circuit. With five years of course form there's plenty to go at but focus should be on those, like former winner Thomas Pieters, who rip it off the tee.
Scandinavian Invitation - August 22-25
Under a new name, what was known as the Nordea Masters returns to Hills Golf & Sports Club for the second year in succession. What did we learn from the first visit? Perhaps that driving accuracy is a good starting point. Thomas Aiken and Max Kieffer, second and third, are among the most reliably straight on the circuit while winner Paul Waring stayed out of trouble on his way to a play-off win over the former. Waring ranked fourth in greens, Kieffer first and Aiken 12th, and on a course which looked and played fiddly, that's a good starting point. Former winner Matt Fitzpatrick should love it and so should Marcus Kinhult, who lives locally.
Omega European Masters - August 29-September 1
Speaking of Fitzpatrick, he'll be going for a hat-trick in the mountains after back-to-back play-off wins at Crans-sur-Sierre GC. While both came at the expense of big hitters, the formula in Switzerland is accuracy-based and the top two in greens last year fought out the play-off, with Lucas Bjerregaard the unlucky loser. It's in fact two years running that the leader in greens hit has lost in overtime, with Scott Hend the runner-up to Fitz in 2017, and it's worth noting that all three players mentioned here have been in the top two at Fanling in Hong Kong.
Porsche European Open - September 5-8
After back-to-back weeks for the plodders, those who like to flex are given the chance to do so again at Green Eagle in Germany. Granted, Richard McEvoy won here in 2018, but as with the Czech Masters that shouldn't deter us from looking first at the biggest hitters around. Jordan Smith showed what power can do here in 2017, beating a stunned Alex Levy in a play-off, and with five par-fives to go at a little extra in the locker can go a long way, particularly if there's been rain around as there had been back then.
KLM Open - September 12-15
Perhaps the trickiest event to assess of those remaining this year will be the KLM Open, because we head to a new course, The International. It's a very modern venue designed to host tournament golf, and looking through pictures it did remind me a little of Celtic Manor. That's good news for home hope Joost Luiten, who has a victory in Wales to his name and has won this title twice. Having missed the event through injury last year, he'll be desperate to put up a bold display and is capable of doing just that in Amsterdam.
BMW PGA Championship - September 19-22
Having moved from its May slot to September, the hope is good weather greets what will be a strong field for the first of the remaining Rolex Series events. This year's renewal takes on extra significance as it marks the start of the Ryder Cup points race, so look to Open hero Shane Lowry and former Wentworth winner Rory McIlroy as two of the headline acts with a little extra incentive. With Tommy Fleetwood and defending champion Francesco Molinari also confirmed in the field, this is one of the highlights of the post-major months.
Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - September 26-29
Not for everyone, this pro-am across three fine Scottish links courses does at least offer a massive purse to compensate for what are long, slow rounds - even by the low standards of professional golf. Sitting after the BMW PGA Championship, expect a decent field with those Ryder Cup points up for grabs and watch, as ever, for players from the UK and Ireland as well as Scandinavia. They've combined to win 16 of the 18 renewals.
Open de Espana - October 3-6
Club de Campo Villa de Madrid plays host to the Spanish Open and it's the first time we've seen the course since 2008, when Charl Schwartzel was victorious. Among the home players in behind were Pablo Larrazabal, Alvaro Quiros and Rafa Cabrera Bello, but watch out too for Wade Ormsby, the Australian who has course form of 6-12 and tends to play well at this time of year. In fact, he saved his card in Spain two years ago and while he shouldn't have that stress to deal with this time, his steady game could come alive in Madrid.
Italian Open - October 10-13
Maintaining its status as part of the Rolex Series, the Italian Open heads to Olgiata GC in Rome, where Justin Rose joins home favourite Francesco Molinari and defending champion Thorbjorn Olesen in the field. Olgiata last hosted a Challenge Tour event in 2015, won by an Italian in Matteo Delpodio. A year earlier, Ricardo Gouveia triumphed and the evidence of those two renewals of the EMC Golf Challenge Open is that accuracy off the tee counts for plenty. It will be a decade since Edoardo Molinari won the Italian Federation Cup at the course, effectively the same Challenge Tour event, while in 2002 it was Ian Pointer who won a three-round Italian Open here. Poulter started with a round of 61 whereas Rose shot 74-71 for a missed cut.
Amundi Open de France - October 17-20
The Open de France, no longer a Rolex Series event, could suffer for its demotion and move from mid-summer to late-autumn. Le Golf National remains a popular course among players and it's possible that enough big names still turn up having played in Italy, but so far only Olesen and defending champion Alex Noren have committed. Those who do play will face a serious test, particularly if the weather is cooler than they've grown used to here in Paris. It was certainly demanding when hosting the Ryder Cup at around the same time last year and we should expect a classy player to win in something around 10-under. It may well be Noren, who is on the way back.
Portugal Masters - October 24-27
After a couple of years of Valderrama drama, the final event of the regular season is back in Portugal where those fighting for their cards will do so at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course. It's another track which favours long drivers like two-time winner Tom Lewis and 2017 champion Lucas Bjerregaard, as patchy rough encourages aggression from the tee. Players who can cope with a breeze are also favoured but essentially this is a shootout - the average winning score has been 20-under, even accounting for the 2014 edition played over just 36 holes.
WGC-HSBC Champions - October 31-November 3
Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, McIlroy and Rose join defending champion Xander Schauffele in the final remaining World Golf Championship of the season. Once the FedEx Cup is finished, this is the last significant stop for the elite players of the PGA Tour and we should see a good percentage of the world's top 50 in Shanghai for what's been a reliably dramatic event. Last year, Schauffele beat Tony Finau in a play-off, while in 2017 both Johnson and Koepka collapsed to allow Rose to steal the title with a Sunday charge. The event has been dominated by PGA Tour regulars one way or another and there's no reason that should change.
Turkish Airlines Open - November 7-10
Significantly, perhaps, the Turkish Airlines Open returns to Montgomerie Maxx Royal, where it began life. That's great news for Dubuisson, who won both 2013 and 2015 renewals, and it's also significant that this is where Koepka really announced himself as a potential superstar. The course encourages aggression despite being tight in places, with a series of reachable par-fives, a driveable par-four and typically serene, hot conditions in Antalya. Birdies all the way to the bank.
Nedbank Golf Challenge - November 14-17
Dubbed 'Africa's major', the Nedbank has expanded from what was a small-field cash-grab to a key part of the Race To Dubai. It still hasn't managed to attract the very best in the world, even those fighting for season-long honours, and sitting in between events in Turkey and Dubai poses clear issues at the end of a busy campaign. That said, Ryder Cup points may tempt a few more elite players to Sun City, where Lee Westwood secured an emotional success last year. It's one of Westwood's favourite courses in the world and his long, straight driving is the best route to success here.
DP World Tour Championship - November 21-24
The final event of the season and one which tends to deliver regardless of the Race To Dubai situation. In 2017, Rose looked set to steal the season-long points prize from Fleetwood only to falter late on as Jon Rahm collected the title, while in 2018 it was Danny Willett who won the event as Molinari was rightly crowned Race To Dubai champion. The Greg Norman-designed course is a typical desert layout which boasts an exciting closing stretch, holes 16 and 17 offering genuine threat to the leaders before a risk-reward par-five where water is in play throughout.