With its future mired in uncertainty, professional golf yields a rare inevitability as Rory McIlroy is crowned Race to Dubai champion for the fifth time.
“The Race Ends Here” proclaim the banners outside the Jumeirah Beach Golf Estates here in the United Arab Emirates, with the faces of McIlroy and Masters champion Jon Rahm prominent on posters.
But McIlroy is already banking his $2m bonus for successfully defending the DP World Tour’s season-long money list title. The rest of the field – Rahm included – still await hearing the bell to signal the final lap of this tumultuous campaign.
It comes with another lucrative event, the DP World Tour Championship, where the winner takes home $3m before the curtain closes the 2023 campaign.
It is little wonder that McIlroy says: “From a financial standpoint, there’s never been a better time to be a professional golfer.”
But very few people have any idea of how the men’s game will look beyond next season.
The Northern Irishman, who is a board member of the PGA Tour, is better placed than most in that regard and insists the situation is not as confused as many believe.
Still to be resolved is the ‘Framework Agreement’ struck last June between the PGA and DP World Tours and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Many suggest the sides remain miles apart and the 31 December deadline for a deal is, at best, unrealistic.
The PGA Tour is also talking to other private investors, who appear ready to inject billions into the game. But what will be the cost when they seek a return on their investment? There is no such thing as free money.
The bids were discussed by the tour earlier this week, but details are scarce. “I think if you were in the middle of it, you would see that there’s a path forward,” McIlroy said.
“It’s just that no one on the outside has any details. Loose lips sink ships, so we are trying to keep it tight and within walls. I’m sure when there’s news to tell, it will be told.”
There are many moving parts to the story, but the bottom line is that the tours require extra money to finance their gargantuan purses for the 2024 season. And they need those inflated prize funds to deter potential defectors to the Saudi-funded LIV circuit.
And all of this is being scrutinised by a United States government concerned that a major American sporting entity is jumping into bed with Saudi Arabia.
“I think getting something done sooner rather than later is a good thing,” McIlroy said.
“Because you know, even if we get a deal done, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to happen.
“That’s up to the United States government at that point, and whether the Department of Justice think that it’s the right thing to do or whether anti-competitive or whatever.
“Even if a deal does get done, it’s not a sure thing. So yeah, we are just going to have to wait and see. But in my opinion, the faster something gets done, the better.”
Speaking about how the competition LIV has brought to the golfing landscape, Donald observed: “It gives unreasonable values on what people are worth.
“You’re worth what anyone is prepared to pay, I suppose, but for me it creates too much entitlement among, certainly, the players.”
Here in Dubai, a leading European tour figure suggested too much money is now flowing into players’ pockets, saying: “These players think they should be paid like NFL quarterbacks.
“And people forget, there’s a lot of pressure coming down from television who are looking to cut rights fees.”
In the US, commentator and former tour player Frank Nobilo added to what is becoming an increasingly regular theme, speaking on the Five Clubs podcast.
“Golfers are overpaid compared to every other sport,” the New Zealander told host Gary Williams.
But to be fair to McIlroy, the world number two does see a wider picture beyond the burgeoning wealth of top pros.
“That’s 5% of what golf is,” he said.
“It’s the golf that you play; it’s the golf that my dad plays. It’s not just about us. It’s about the overall health of the game.”
Fans have been denied a thrilling climax to the European season due to McIlroy’s excellence – his wins at the Dubai Desert Classic and Scottish Open, helping him build an unassailable lead in the Race to Dubai.
So the main intrigue this week surrounds the race for 10 PGA Tour cards for next season. Scotland’s Bob MacIntyre is the leading Briton in the scramble for a spot on the lucrative American circuit.
MacIntyre lies seventh among the leading 10 on the Race to Dubai who do not already have playing rights secured Stateside. “Getting a PGA Tour card would obviously be massive for my career,” he told BBC Sport.
“But it is not the be all and end all. I’ve got a good life, I earn good money, I travel the world and my family are well.
“A PGA Tour card would be great for my career but my life will change quite dramatically with where I have to live, what I have to do.”
Many observers suggest the carrot of qualifying for the American circuit relegates the status of the DP World Tour.
“I get why people say it’s become a feeder tour, but I don’t think it is,” MacIntyre said.
“You look at the fields we get in a lot of places around the world, guys still come back and play over here and probably enjoy it more. It’s more of a family feel.
“I enjoy playing the DP World Tour. It’s home for me. We have fun, eat our dinner and just have a great laugh. I feel like that’s the biggest thing on this tour.
“It’s not just the golf, it’s the life, the memories and the friends that you make and for me that’s everything.”