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Fired-up Stenson holds key to Europe's future on and off course

By Liam Kelly

Henrik Stenson could audition for a role as both kingmaker and kingslayer in the ‘Game of Thrones’ that is up for grabs on the European Tour.

Stenson looks to cap a memorable year by dethroning Europe’s No.1, Rory McIlroy, in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, and he also has a big say in the naming of the next Ryder Cup captain.

The Swede, who won the Open Championship in spectacular style at Royal Troon, is waiting for the call to add his input into the committee who will choose a successor to Darren Clarke for the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in France.

“I’ll be the representative from the Tournament Committee together with the previous three captains and Keith (Pelley). We’ll have a discussion I’ll be available and give my input,” said Stenson.

The committee line-up is Stenson, Clarke (2016), Paul McGinley (2014) and Jose Maria Olazabal (2012) plus the European Tour CEO Pelley.

Right now Thomas Bjorn, three times a Ryder Cup player and four times a vice-captain, including at Hazeltine, looks to be the front-runner.

Talking of bookies’ favourites, Ulsterman McIlroy, at 3/1, is tipped to retain his DP World Tour Championship title, with Stenson next best at 6/1 on the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

Both players have more than just a big tournament victory on the line. McIlroy’s quest to regain the World No.1 spot rests on his winning this week, while Stenson’s main goal is to replace McIlroy as Europe’s No.1.

“It would be one of my finest achievements,” Stenson said. “It was pretty sweet to be here as Europe’s No.1 in 2013, and I don’t think it would be any less sweet with the season that I’ve had, winning The Open and some other fine performances throughout the year.”

FedEx Cup champion McIlroy is fourth in the rankings behind Stenson, Danny Willett and Alex Noren.

McIlroy said: “Yes, mathematically I can win, (the Race to Dubai), but it’s not going to happen. I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think the three guys that are ahead of me are playing very good golf, especially the two Swedes, Henrik and Alex.

“I don’t expect those guys to play badly. I’m just concentrating on trying to win the tournament and if I can do that, I’ll be very happy.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey needs to jump from tied 39th place into the top 25 who will earn their Tour card at the end of play today in the Q-School finals at PGA Catalunya in Girona, Spain.

A 69 yesterday for a three-under par, five-round total gives Hoey a chance to regain the playing rights he lost in the season just ended. The gap to the magic 25 mark is only two shots, so today it’s make or break for him.

Waterford’s Gary Hurley has a big challenge after 72 yesterday left him joint 59th on level par.

Former European Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari leads the field on 14-under. His five-under-par 67 gives him a three-shot lead over closest challenger Nathan Kimsey of England.

He said: “A three-shot lead is a very good one, it would be very nice to end the week on a high.”

Belfast Telegraph


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