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On to Dubai we go then for the 3rd and final instalment of this year's trio of desert events and thankfully we're back to a Thursday to Sunday format, albeit with early morning starts once again due to the time difference. The concluding event in the Middle East swing may not offer the richest in terms of prize money - that accolade is still with Abu Dhabi for this season at least - however in terms of attendance it's very nearly as strong with 9/4 favourite Rory McIlroy and 10/1 shot Henrik Stenson headlining from the OWGR top 10 and the likes of Martin Kaymer, Benny An, Andy Sullivan and Louis Oosthuizen as part of the very able supporting cast.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Waste Management Phoenix Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Emirates GC. Designer: Litten, 1998; Course Type: Desert; Par: 72; Length: 7,319 yards; Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Bermuda/Rye; Rough: Bermuda/Rye; Greens: Bermuda (TifEagle) 12'6" on the stimp; 2015 scoring average: 71.02; Rd1: 70.98., Rd2: 71.06, Rd3: 70.43, Rd4: 71.61.
Course Overview. History has shown that hitting greens is the key statistic at the 7,319 yard par 72 Emirates Golf Club - once on board, the putting surfaces are pretty flat and reasonably speedy Bermuda measuring 12-13 on the stimpmeter. Length off the tee isn't a massive advantage here as many holes require a shaped shot to navigate around the numerous doglegs - shaping the ball both ways is a great asset to have here. The course is always presented in perfect condition and the greens are amongst the best on Tour. The expectation is for gusts up to 50 km/h on Thursday which may well dampen scores on day 1, however this is still an event where a decent number of birdies are required in order to be competitive.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Dubai Desert Classic that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form |Tournament Form |First Round Leader Stats |Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Rory McIlroy 7/2; 2014: Stephen Gallacher, 45/1; 2013: Stephen Gallacher, 70/1; 2012: Rafael Cabrera-Bello, 125/1; 2011: Alvaro Quiros, 16/1; 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 66/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the completed 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Dubai is here. The tournament should enjoy mild (mid 70s) and dry conditions throughout the 4 days with a reasonable breeze of between 15-25 km/h blowing across the course on and off throughout the 4 days, although the opening day is likely to experience the strongest wind with gusts of 30-50 km/h possible.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 6 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Similar to Qatar last week, the requirement here tends to be strong GIR numbers coupled with a decent week on the slick Bermuda greens. The greens here are slightly different though with Bermuda Tifeagle being this week's strain which is well worth noting.
Incoming Form/Event Form Of Winner. Each of the last 6 winners had recorded at least one top-10 finish in their previous 8 performances so recent form was fairly decent. Previous form in the desert is also an important factor - each winner had at least two career top-10 performances to their name in the desert, however perhaps most telling is that each of the last 6 winners had recorded at least a top-20 finish here the year before their victory. That trend halts with McIlroy's win here in 2009 (previous event form of MC/52/MC), however prior to that Woods (08), Stenson (07) and Els (05) also had a top-20 finish or better the year before. Woods in 2006 hadn't played 12 months earlier, however he'd finished 5th on his previous start in 2004. For a summary of 2015 winners' current/event form prior to winning their respective events click here.
Prior to Rory's win last season, no winner since Tiger Woods' victory here in 2008 had started within the top 3 of the betting - the shortest price in that period was Alvaro Quiros who, at 16/1, was 5th favourite - so don't write this off as a procession for Rory although he's a clear and worthy favourite this week. The only negative I can really say about McIlroy is that on those rare occasions that he's struggled on the course (when fit) it's generally been when the wind has impacted his normally immaculate distance control. That's not to say he can't play wind - far from it - however Thursday's forecast is a leveller to a certain degree and is enough to put me off at what is an incredibly skinny price.
My final Dubai Desert Classic tips are as follows:
If someone's going to stand in the way of Rory McIlroy's title defence this week then the bookies have got it just about right in my opinion. Henrik Stenson at 10/1 or thereabouts is clearly a big threat seeing as how well he played in Abu Dhabi on his first outing since knee surgery, however my preference goes to Martin Kaymer who was prominent a fortnight ago without really threatening the top of the leaderboard at any point.
After a month away from competitive golf and with countless interviews and reminders of his previous year's capitulation on his favourite course last time out, perhaps redemption will come a little later for the German and this track here in Dubai is another prime candidate for success. 4 top-4 finishes from 6 attempts here makes the 25/1 on offer about the 2-time Major Champion quite appealing, despite the fact that he could be fighting for the places only if McIlroy performs to anything approaching the best of his ability. 84.7% GIR here 12 months ago more than suggests he's got the measure of this layout from tee-to-green and twice he's ranked second in the field for putting here with putts per GIR performances of 1.60 and 1.66 in 2009/2010 respectively. Combine that with the fact that his all-round game looked in fantastic shape in Thailand - plus he's out of the limelight here to a large degree in comparison to Abu Dhabi - and I can see the 31 year-old putting in a bold performance here. A low ball flight should be perfect to stay out of the worst of Thursday's wind and from then on he can concentrate on compiling a contending score on a track where his last competitive round was his career best, a flawless 64 here 12 months ago that catapulted him up to 4th place. RESULT: MC
The trend for winners having produced a top-20 performance here the previous season is exceptionally strong, however if there's one player I'm willing to overlook that for it's Thomas Pieters. After coming so close to forcing a play-off in Abu Dhabi and giving us ashot at a 50/1 winner, his follow-up performance in Qatar may have looked disappointing until you learn that the 23 year-old was battling sickness all week. To his credit the talented Belgian managed to birdie his final hole of the second round to make the cut, however it was always going to be an uphill struggle even when 100% fit so a tailed-off tie for 52nd place isn't really the disaster it might first appear. He'll have many more chances to build on last year's pair of European Tour victories given his undoubted talent and another big performance here this week is more than possible in my view.
The 6ft 5in slogger is one of the most powerful hitters on the European Tour and the back 9 here can certainly reap many birdies to the bombers who can keep their ball in play off the tee. Thomas's real strength though comes with the flat stick and that putting prowess was in evidence again on the Bermudagrass greens of Abu Dhabi where he ranked 4th for putts per GIR (1.66); combine that effort with the 1.56 he achieved on the TifEagle at the Earth Course before Christmas to lead the field in that respect and we have a player who's likely to feel more than comfortable once again on the putting surfaces here. Three solid round of 69 here last year is encouragement enough for me to feel that Pieters can perform here on this layout and at 58th in the OWGR he'll be motivated to grab a high finish given the ranking points on offer this week. RESULT: MC
A couple of outsiders to complete my team who I feel have as good a chance as any of the longer prices of making the frame this week. Firstly Gregory Bourdy caught my last week with his 84.7% of greens hit in regulation (which led the field) as he recorded a second consecutive impressive performance in Qatar after last year's tie for 5th. In truth it could have been far better for the Frenchman who opened with a flawless 65 before notching the first ever ace at the 8th hole in his second round on his way to a 9-under total at halfway which was good enough for a place in the final group on Friday's third round. For a player whom I regard as a decent putter it was perhaps a surprise to see the flat stick desert him over the final 2 rounds with 69 putts in 36 holes ultimately being his downfall, however with his irons in such rude health - he ranked 2nd at Lake Malaren on that count as well as 1st at the Earth Course - he's difficult to ignore here. The Bordeaux man was Charl Schwatzel's closest competitor at Leopard Creek before Christmas and with 6 consecutive cuts made here including 3 finishes inside the top-16 and 13th last year, it's clear that the 4-time European Tour winner gets on well with this layout. 6th for putting here in 2012 (1.68 putts per GIR), 5th on the same count in 2014 (1.65) and 2nd last year (1.62) all points to Bourdy having the measure of these greens and a contending performance is quite possible if he can put those positive performances on the putting surfaces here together with his immaculate ironplay of late. RESULT: T36
Finally Marc Warren is worthy of a small investment at a big price following a similarly strong showing last week with his approach play to that of Bourdy. There are certain factors that I look for in certain golfers to indicate that they might produce a big week from seemingly out of the blue and one of those is GIR when it comes to the 34 year-old. Warren normally relies on his prowess on and around the greens to successfully navigate a golf course, however every so often he finds form with his irons to great effect - 9th for GIR at last year's US PGA Championship for instance was immediately followed up with a victory in Denmark on his next start and his near miss at Wentworth in 2013 came 2 events after recording 84.7% GIR (2nd in the field) at the Ballantine's Championship which was by far his best GIR effort of that season. 2nd in Qatar last year and 13th here suggest he's more than comfortable in this part of the world and Bermuda TifEagle is a surface he's happy to play on having led the field for putting at Doral last year as well as ranking 1st here for total putts in 2013 and 2nd on the same count here 12 months ago. Opening rounds of 66/65 here last season put the Scot in a great position at the halfway point at -13, just a shot off of eventual winner Rory McIlroy's total at that point, before the pressure of a final grouping with the then World No.1 took its toll. A year further on and with a third European Tour title tucked under his belt since then, I suspect he'll make a better fist of things this week if he gets into position. RESULT: MC
Our predictions for the 2017 Dubai Desert Classic will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.