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After more than 11 months of battle - stretching all the way back to early December last year - we finally arrive at the season's finale in Dubai. Some years we've arrived at this point with the Race to Dubai already sewn up, however that's far from the case this year with no fewer than 7 players in with a theoretical chance of becoming European No.1 for 2015 and we're in for a real treat this week as the competition reaches its conclusion over the weekend.
As we head to Greg Norman's Earth Course, Rory McIlroy holds the slenderest of leads over Danny Willett who spurned a golden opportunity last week to put some clear daylight between himself and the former World No.1 with a disappointing tie for 28th at Lake Malaren. Either man wins the Race to Dubai with victory here at Jumeirah Golf Estates, however Justin Rose, Shane Lowry, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and Byeong-Hun An all have mathematical chances of securing top spot, albeit of increasingly obscure and unlikely scenarios as you work down that list - full details of each player's requirements are here.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford casts his eye over this week's action at the RSM Classic (formerly the McGladrey Classic) - you can read his preview here from teatime on Tuesday 17th November.
Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE. Designer: Greg Norman, 2009; Par: 72; Length: 7,675 yards; Fairways: Bermuda; Rough: Bermuda/Rye; Greens: TifEagle Bermuda; Stimp: 12'6"; Scoring Average 2014: 70.61. Round 1: 71.73, Round 2: 70.08, Round 3: 69.87, Round 4: 70.75.
Course Overview. As ever, the venue for the DP World Tour Championship is the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course. The track is a monster at 7,675 yards with 2 of the par 5s measuring over 620 yards, the tough par-4 9th which is 3 feet short of 500 yards, plus the 195 yard par 3 17th which plays to an island green. The fairways are quite wide and, with dry weather in the run-up to this week, the course will be playing hard and fast. Greens are large, undulating Bermudagrass which measure 12'6" on the stimp and, as always, aren't to every player's liking.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's DP World Tour Championship 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. 2014: Henrik Stenson, 17/2; 2013: Henrik Stenson, 11/1; 2012: Rory McIlroy, 6/1; 2011: Alvaro Quiros, 40/1; 2010: Robert Karlsson, 50/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Dubai is here. Dry, warm and sunny conditions will greet the players this week in Dubai with temperatures reaching the mid-80s Fahrenheit each day and afternoon breezes picking up to around 20-25 km/h
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of recent winners here gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited here:
Length off the tee clearly helps here as each of the winners listed finished inside the top 7 for driving distance on the week. Stenson has the measure of this track from tee-to-green as is evident from his outstanding stats from the past 2 seasons and with that kind of accuracy he's been able to win without producing the best putting of performances, whereas McIlroy in 2012 and Karlsson in 2010 both topped the flat stick charts on the week on their way to their respective successes.
The 6 renewals haven't produced any massive shocks with Westwood (16/1), Karlsson (50/1), Quiros (40/1), McIlroy (6/1) and Stenson (11/1 & 17/2) all backable for various reasons. Each of the winners here in the 6-year history of this event have an excellent record in the Middle East swing on the European Tour and each except Westwood have won either in Qatar, Dubai or both over the course of their career.
The rough has been toughened a little over the years which swings the pendulum a little more towards total driving and quality ball-striking than putting in my opinion, although top-quality putters may well still find a way to get into contention this week. Those players who can find fairways, find greens and produce an impressive enough performance on the Bermuda greens are most likely to succeed in my view and the cream is really quite likely to rise to the top over the course of the 4 days. My selections are as follows:
It doesn't take a massive amount of imagination to build a case for Henrik Stenson this week and rather than fight his glaringly obvious chance, I'm going to embrace it and back him accordingly. Rory McIlroy has an impressive record here at the Earth Course, finishing outside the top 5 just once in 6 attempts - included in that was his 2012 victory in a year in which he'd already wrapped up the Race to Dubai title before stepping foot in Dubai. Justin Rose and Ian Poulter have both finished runner-up here twice each in the past 5 years and Turkish Open winner Victor Dubuisson clearly also enjoys this layout having finished 3rd and 2nd here in the past 2 renewals. All have live chances, as have at least another dozen, however if the super Swede continues the ball-striking masterclass we saw last week in Shanghai then someone's going to have to produce something pretty special indeed to prevent him from completing a hat-trick of Dubai titles here this week.
Stenson arrived here in 2013 having secured the FedEx Cup in mightily impressive fashion with victories at the Deutsche Bank and Tour Championship PlayOff events before picking up a wrist injury before the Final Series back on the European Tour. After a couple of muted efforts in China, he topped the ball-striking charts in Turkey to share 7th place overall before coming here and destroying the field by 6 strokes despite clearly nursing his wrist. Last year's defence was injury-free, however he wasn't in quite the same winning form overall with a couple of runner-up finishes his best efforts before topping the ball-striking stats for the third week in succession and winning here by two strokes. Third the week before in Turkey 12 months ago matches last week's effort and 90.3% GIR at Lake Malaren - including 51 from 54 greens hit over the first 3 days - suggests to me that he's in exactly the right place tee-to-green to tame this track once again.
Having worked hard on his putting after struggling on the Paspalum greens at Kuala Lumpur, the results were immediate and he shaved a full two-tenths off of his average by the time he arrived at Sheshan a week later. Couple his undoubted long game prowess with a flat stick that performs far better than most on Bermuda greens and we have a recipe for success on a track that's been toughened a little out of the rough and demands high GIR and decent enough putting on the Bermuda carpet. The 39 year-old has won in both Qatar and Dubai on the European Tour's Desert Swing and has more than a dozen top-10 finishes in that trio of events over the years when you add in Abu Dhabi - and that's of course without even considering what he's done here at the Earth Course over the past 2 seasons.
The very best players peak for the biggest events and it's always interesting to listen to interviews and monitor the trends of the elite as they progress through their schedule. Stenson often talks about building momentum during the season and it's clear to me that outside of the Majors it's East Lake and the Earth Course that he targets for peak performances in his game. With no win and 5 runner-up finishes in 2015 to date, Stenson will want this badly and with no added pressure of being able to win the Race to Dubai, he can play his natural game while the others around him work out their own personal permutations.
After missing out to Jason Day and Rickie Fowler in the PlayOff series, Stenson came up against an unstoppable Jordan Spieth at the Tour Championship to prevent him from securing another $10m payday. Yes, Rory could produce something special this week and scupper everything. Yes, he's got a niggling knee issue that will be rectified when the season's ended. Yes, there's been a succession of 3-figure outsiders winning both sides of the Atlantic in recent times that raise question marks whenever you consider backing a short-priced contender. However it's time to be bold in my opinion and follow the lines of logic, form and history which all point towards a third successive title for Stenson who will undoubtedly apply his patient strategy to the demands of the Earth Course once again this year. RESULT: T59
Is there another play here or should we just go all-in on Stenson is the question. Every egg in one basket does make for a boring event if things don't go as planned though and, despite the likely dominance of the favourites, there's still potential for someone of the quality of Thorbjorn Olesen to make the frame here at a long price.
This season's Alfred Dunhill Links champion has had an up-and-down year following surgery on tendon issues in his left hand and it was evident in Scotland that he's still not completely trouble-free in that respect despite having returned to a full schedule since May. Not that his injury prevented him from securing the biggest win of his career at the Home of Golf last month though and a few seemingly lacklustre performances since aren't enough to put me off the Dane here on a course he knows incredibly well by his own estimation, "Like I said before, I know this golf course very well. I've played it a lot of times. It feels like a second home golf course for me really." he said last year during last year's event where he eventually finished 12th, having been right in contention until he found the water twice on the 18th hole on Saturday.
So a strong recent performance producing a huge victory in one of the European Tour's most prestigious events and intimate knowledge of the task at hand would seem to be two big positives. Given the 25 year-old's style of play, I'd expect him to succeed more as a result of his excellent putting as opposed to tee-to-green excellence, however there are positive signs in his long game too. Having made some small adjustments to his set-up midway through the tournament at Sheshan a fortnight ago, he's found himself hitting more fairways and greens since then which makes him a very dangerous player given his prowess on the putting surfaces. Combine that with a record in the Middle East swing that includes 2nd at Abu Dhabi in 2013, 3rd in Qatar in 2014 and 3rd (2013) and 5th (2014) at the Dubai Desert Classic, we have a player here who could well defy the odds and sneak an each-way place or better this week. RESULT: T17
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel