Barring injury, disqualification or something miraculous, Europe will crown a new No 1 in Martin Kaymer here this evening. And from the look in Ian Poulter's eyes it will take something just as strange to deny him his second title in as many weeks.
It may be a different desert, but it has been the same mouth-watering fare from the Englishman. When winning the Accenture World Match Play in Tucson in February, Poulter strode around with that upright swagger of his knocking in five footers for fun and generally giving off the air of a professional certain of his Sunday destiny. Nine months on and the Dubai World Championship is his to lose. A two-shot lead sets him up for a return to the world's top 10 and the first back-to-back triumphs of his ever more rousing career.
Poulter does not do "losing" when he is the final-round pacesetter. Indeed, seven of his 10 wins have come when out in front after 54 holes; only once has he not converted the advantage. "That's not too shoddy a stat, is it?" he said after a 69 put him on 12-under, two clear of Ross Fisher, Francesco Molinari and Thongchai Jaidee. "Being a front-runner probably suits my personality."
Poulter smiled when admitting it, although stopped short of displaying the same kind of confidence which characterised his display on television before going out to take on Matt Kuchar in the singles at Celtic Manor. "I will win my point," he repeated over and over, before being true to his word with a 5&4 fist-pumper. "No I'm not going to say the same now," he said. "The Ryder Cup was matchplay, it was a 50-50. The odds are probably not as good here. But I am fairly confident and know that if I keep playing well, then I'm going to have a great chance to win."
If and when he picks up the £775,000 first prize, Poulter will have engineered a climax to match the beginnings of a startling season. "My game is as good as it's been – I'm playing as good as I did in Tucson," he said. "I'm swinging it good and if I want to hit a cut or a draw I can. If I put the ball in the fairway I'm going to be dangerous, especially if I hole a few putts. I'm back where I was. Why did I play poorly through the summer? Don't know to be honest. Obviously something distracted me."
Whatever it was essentially left him adrift in the money list race. Kaymer arrived here £250,000 ahead of Graeme McDowell, the only player capable of overhauling the German. McDowell has failed. However, this was a failure the Irishman was happy to accept following a year which saw him become the first European to lift the US Open title in 40 years as well as the hero of his continent at the Ryder Cup.
"Sometimes you've just got to wave the white flag," he said after a 69 took him to two-under, eight shots off from the third position he would at the very least require. "I tried my heart out and it just didn't happen. But I'll have a cold beer and look back on a great season."
McDowell, however, is also lookingforward and what he sees is exciting in the extreme. The 31-year-old has never been one for the grand statement, but now he finds it simply unavoidable. "What I've learnt this season is that I'm good enough," he said. "I know what room I have for improvement, but it was great to see that my best is good enough to compete. Two or three years ago theNo 1 player in the world seemed untouchable. But I believe if I work hard enough the next few years I could be the best player in the world."
Kaymer could reach that summit today, although a double-bogey seven at the 18th, after finding the water, made a double accession highly unlikely. To leapfrog Lee Westwood he needs to win as it is almost unfeasible that Westwood will not finish in the top 20. After a sloppy 71, the Englishman is on nine-under actually two clear of Kaymer. The latter's 73 left him targeting Tiger Woods' position instead. "No 1 in the world is not really a consideration," he said. "But if I play well and finish in the top five or top three I could still become No 2. I will play as aggressive as possible tomorrow as I have nothing to lose. It looks like I've won the Race to Dubai now and that was my goal coming here."
At 25, Kaymer will become the youngest winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy since Ronan Rafferty 21 years ago. Inevitably, he was keen to mention Seve Ballesteros, who topped the Order of Merit as a 19-year-old in 1976, when assessing his achievement. "Just to be on the same page is the biggest honour you can get," he said. "I've always dreamt about having a year like this. I played on a winning Ryder Cup team, I won a major and I won in St Andrews. Now I will win the Race to Dubai. I think there's not a lot left."