Snakes and ladders: AVIV Dubai Championship is the last regular European Tour event of 2021 season

The Fire Course at Jumeirah hosts a week that will provide joy for a few and disappointment for many.

Taking board games into school used to be a thing on the last day of the year.

Golf has its own version of such fun - the final event of the regular season is always a bit like snakes and ladders, only played for real.

For the stars of the game - and there are a few playing this week in the AVIV Dubai Championship on the Fire Course at Jumeirah - there's not too much at stake.

But for many others it will be a frantic and fretful week.

For those around the back end of the top 50 there is the lure of an extension to their stay in Dubai; they want to be playing in next week's DP World Tour Championship when the prize money promises a good Christmas and the world ranking points offers hope of opportunities in 2022.

In that sense, those players are really only seeing the potential of rolling a six and landing on a ladder.

For the poor unfortunates hovering around 122nd in the rankings, however, the peril is real.

Roll five or six and they'll land on a short but glorious ladder that lifts them into next season.

A three or four will leave them twitching as they watch the live rankings projection change with every shot played on Sunday afternoon.

And, if the dice lands a one or a two, it spells trouble: landing on a snake, gobbled up, slipping down the categories in 2022. It will not be quite so profound a slip as in the past - when Q School, the Challenge Tour and even a career-change loomed large - because the Tour is protecting status to some degree, owing to the on-going confusion of the pandemic, but it will change things.

Let's take a closer look at the incentives and threats that face the players in this week's field.

Free spin

Paul Casey has enjoyed a wonderful 2021 and it all kicked off with victory in the Dubai Desert Classic so he'll be all set for a very enjoyable return to the UAE.

That said, he'll be keen to reset his game ahead of next week's seasonal finale because, after landing 12 top 20s in his first 17 starts of the year, he's now gone four without one.

His fellow Englishman Tommy Fleetwood has had a bit of a sticky 2021, but a pair of tied seventh finishes in his last three starts (at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Zozo Championship) offers hope that he can contend in this final fortnight.

The pair of them sit seventh and 13th respectively in the Race to Dubai. They have no fear of not making next week.

The same can be said of the likes of Bernd Wiesberger, Guido Migliozzi, Justin Harding, last week's winner Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Thomas Detry and Dean Burmester who are all ranked 31st or better.

Looking for a long ladder

Here are the rankings around the top 50: 46 Francesco Laporta, 47 John Catlin, 48 Martin Kaymer, 49 Patrick Reed, 50 Max Kieffer, 51 Sam Horsfield, 52 Tapio Pulkkanen, 53 Joakim Lagergren, 54, Alex Bjork, 55 James Morrison, 56 Mikko Korhonen, 57 Alex Levy, 58 Padraig Harrington, 59 Adrian Otaegui, 60 Aaron Rai.

Only Reed and Rai don't start this week. The rest are keen to have a good result and book a ticket for the DP World Tour Championship.

The reach in that event might extend beyond the top 50 if someone higher up doesn't make the journey so there could be a bonus spot or two available for lucky losers.

Looking for a short ladder

Those currently just inside the cut mark for next season are: 115 Scott Jamieson, 116 Matti Schmid, 117 Branden Grace, 118 Jacques Kruyswijk, 119 Chris Paisley, 120 Nicolai Von Dellinghausen, 121 Darren Fichardt, 122 Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez.

Jamieson, Paisley, Fichardt and Garcia Rodriguez at least have their fate in their own hands of a sort - they play this week.

The German pair of Schmid and Von Dellinghausen, plus Kruyswijk, do not tee it up and must watch the projected rankings in hope all week. Grace's exemption category runs out this year, but he won't be fretting with a PGA Tour card, South African starts guaranteed and a solid stature in the game.

Looking to avoid the snake

Currently in the agonising position of being just short of safety are: 123 David Drysdale, 124 Ben Hebert, 125 Ross Fisher, 126 Scott Hend, 127 Renato Paratore, 128 Ashley Chesters.

Among those with big names who need something special are: 137 Thorbjorn Olesen, 140 Eddie Pepperell, 143 Alvaro Quiros, 145 Oliver Wilson, 148 Mike Lorenzo-Vera, 152 Robert Rock, 236 Tom Lewis.

Rock is resigned to his fate, the rest play and will hope to roll the right number. For Lewis it is a particular blow - he's gone from the glory of flying up all sort of ladders from the Challenge Tour to the PGA Tour, to being gobbled up by all sort of snakes and potentially being back where he started.

READ MORE: Portugal Masters: Thomas Pieters pockets fifth European Tour title with win at Dom Pedro

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