3-2-1: European Tour's seasonal finale and card chase begins at this week's Portugal Masters

The traditional charge for the line begins at Dom Pedro: the top 50 in the rankings head to the DP World Tour Championship, the top 122 earn a card for next year.

In theory, the main goal for the field at this week's Portugal Masters is lifting the trophy, but for many on the circuit their position in the Race to Dubai is what will be most preying on their mind.

There are just three tournaments to go in the 2021 season, there is plenty to play for, and the current state of the rankings are a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change in the sport.

Lee Westwood opened last season with victory in Abu Dhabi and closed it with second in the traditional seasonal finale - enough to hold off Matthew FitzpatrickPatrick Reed and Tommy Fleetwood and win the Race to Dubai.

But 2021 has been less straightforward. He heads into the home straight of the season languishing at 105th in the standings and apparently content with that situation - he doesn't play in Portugal or Dubai.

This week and next week's AVIV Dubai Championship will determine which players keep their cards for the 2022 season and also who will play in the final event of the season - the big money DP WORLD TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP.

Card chasing always produces drama at the end of a season, a sort of golfing voyeurism as players fret about where they will be playing next year.

That, and the determination to make the top 50 (who will play in the seasonal finale), can have an impact on results in the next two weeks.

Some players thrive when under the greatest pressure, others wilt.

Let's take a closer look at what can happen and who is under the cosh.

The magic of the stick or carrot

There's probably not a lot of carrot persuasion going on in the final events of a season for those whose cards are under threat - the motivation is almost certainly all about fear of the stick.

But it is a factor that has worked wonders at times.

Back in 2017 Jamie Donaldson, Wade Ormsby and Daniel Brooks arrived at Valderrama for the final event of the regular season needing a top five finish to secure their playing rights for the following year.

To say that the trio had poor records on the infamously brutal Spanish track would be an under-estimation of seismic proportions.

Donaldson had a course stroke average of 74.58, Ormsby of 79.00 and Brooks of 77.00.

Good luck, lads.

Guess what happened? Donaldson carded 73-67-68-71 to finish fourth, Ormsby scored 73-70-67-70 to grab fifth, and Brooks bettered both going 70-72-64-71 to land solo third.

Job done in ludicrous fashion. The stick did well.

This year's top 50

Currently just inside the top 50 (so needing a good two weeks to guarantee a trip to Jumeirah): 44th Sean Crocker, 45th Martin Kaymer, 47th John Catlin, 48th Joakim Lagergren, 49th James Morrison, 50th Max Kieffer.

Lagergren has finished top 20 three times in his last four Portugal Masters starts, including third last year.

Currently just outside the top 50: 51st Francesco Laporta, 52nd Alex Bjork, 53rd Sam Horsfield, 54th Mikko Korhonen, 55th Tapio Pulkkanen.

Korhonen has a superb record in the Portugal Masters. He's never missed a cut in five starts, has three finishes of T12th or better, and a best of third in 2016.

Laporta was second in last year's Dubai Championship and has also played well in the UAE at Abu Dhabi GC.

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Other players looking to jump into the top 50 include Andrew Johnston (who now lives in Portugal), Andy Sullivan (a past winner of the Portugal Masters), and Henrik Stenson (previous winner at Jumeirah).

(Note: it is expected that some of the top 50 will not play at Jumeirah so the cut off point may extend beyond the top 50.)

Card-chasing

Just inside the magic top 122: 118th Nicolai Von Dellinghausen, 119th Romain Langasque, 120th Darren Fichardt, 121st Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, 122nd David Drysdale.

Garcia Rodriguez is fresh off a top 10 in Mallorca and has good memories of the Portugal Masters - he was tied sixth there last year.

Drysdale is a past master of taking card peril to the last event of a season. He's finished between 100th and 125th six times in his career. But he hasn't made a top 40 in his last five visits to the Portugal Masters.

Just outside the magic number: 123rd Scott Hend, 126th Ashley Chesters, 128th Marcel Siem, 129th Benjamin Hebert.

It was only 2019 that Frenchman Hebert finished second no less than three times on the European Tour - now he's staring at a return to the Challenge Tour.

Big names struggling this year: Renato Paratore 124th, 136th Lucas Bjerregaard, 137th Ashun Wu, 139th Eddie Pepperell, 141st Thorbjorn Olesen, 142nd Alvaro Quiros, 147th Mike Lorenzo Vera, 151st Robert Rock.

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