Start at the top and this season’s Race to Dubai looks encouraging from a Scottish perspective. Russell Knox, after all, is sitting ninth in the standings and the fact all eight players ahead of him were involved in the recent Ryder Cup is an indication of the Invernesian having done his bit this year in flying the Saltire on the European Tour.
Knox, of course, did most of his good work over a two-week period in the summer, finishing joint-second to Alex Noren in the Open de France at Le Golf National before winning the Irish Open at Ballyliffin. Both efforts came in big-money Rolex Series events, with the latter earning him a whopping £878,000.
Alas, start moving down the Race to Dubai standings and a grim story begins to unfold about how the Scottish card holders have performed overall on the circuit. In fact, it is quite possibly going to end up as an annus horribilis because time is running out fast – there are only two regular events remaining - to try and turn things around.
As it stands, the only other Scot in addition to Knox, who is effectively a part-timer on the circuit due to the PGA Tour being his main workplace, to have secured playing rights for next season is Stephen Gallacher. Maintaining a consistent run of results by tying for tenth in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the weekend, the 43-year-old is sitting 76th on the money-list. He, therefore, can head into this week’s British Masters at Walton Heath looking forward rather than over his shoulder.
Gallacher was the only home player out of nine in the field to survive the 54-hole cut in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Historically, it’s been an event that has seen Scottish players rise to the challenge when their backs have been against the wall, but not on this occasion, unfortunately. Consequently, it’s squeaky bum time for some players and virtually win or bust in either that British Masters being hosted by Justin Rose or next week’s Valderrama Masters for others.
Scott Jamieson is also currently inside the safety zone – but only just. After his Dunhill disappointment, he’s slipped to 107th in the rankings. The card cut-off is back up to 110 this year after being reduced to 100 last season due to the introduction of an Access List that proved short-lived. Finishing in the top 115 might even be good enough this time around as a handful of players holding affiliate memberships, including American Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar and Pat Perez, will all come off the final list.
That means both Jamieson and David Drysdale, who sits 111th, still have a little bit of leeway, but, at the same time, there is no denying they are in uncomfortable positions. It’s the third time in four seasons that Jamieson has left himself in this sweat, finishing 106th and 107th in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Here’s hoping he can get the job done again at the death then start producing the sort of results that earned him a top-30 Race to Dubai finish last year.
For Drysdale, this is his 14th successive year holding a European Tour card and, though still chasing that elusive breakthrough win, his success in retaining a seat at the top table for that period of time is something he can be proud of. That’s not to say, though, that you necessarily get the feeling his run is coming to an end. Drysdale’s back was very much against the wall four years ago when he needed a big finish in the final event of the season in Australia and delivered by tying for fourth spot. He’ll be looking to dig deep again.
Considering it’s his rookie season, it can only be viewed as a mild disappointment, really, that Connor Syme, sitting 123rd, has work to do to retain his card – and one good performance would do the trick. However, there’s no denying that it’s a massive shock to see both Richie Ramsay (125th) and Marc Warren (153rd) in the dogfight for European Tour survival.
Since ending up 97th in his first season in 2009, Ramsay has never finished lower than 70th in the Race to Dubai. This, therefore, is new territory, but he will be heartened by this week’s penultimate test being at Walton Heath, where he has performed well in the past in US Open qualifiers. The Aberdonian can still get himself out of trouble. Warren will feel he can, too, and will be using the pain he felt when losing his card once before – at the end of the 2010 campaign – as his motivation over the next two weeks.
It’s encouraging, of course, that Liam Johnston has effectively secured his step up to the main Tour next season off the Challenge Tour, where two others, David Law and Grant Forrest, are also on course to graduate. The more the merrier, though, and here’s hoping that a strong Scottish finish is still in store on the European Tour.