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After more than 11 months of battle - stretching all the way back to late November 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 4 players in with a theoretical chance of becoming European No.1 for 2016 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, Henrik Stenson holds a lead of nearly 300,000 points over 2nd place Danny Willett, however both men have their destiny in their own hands as victory by either will see them crowned the Race to Dubai Champion for 2016 regardless of what else happens this week. The scintillating form of Alex Noren in recent months has also given the Swede a chance of becoming the European Tour's No.1 if he were to win here and Stenson finishes 3rd or worse, whilst Rory McIlroy's chance is more theoretical than likely. Full details of the each player's requirements are detailed here.
Aside from a couple of bookmakers who've extended to 6 places each way this week which is detailed a little further down the page, the promotion of note this week is that Sky Bet have re-launched their massively popular £10 no deposit offer for new customers. So you can have a £10 bet on McIlroy or Stenson, or another player of your choice if you prefer of course, with no deposit and no other commitment:
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford casts his eye over this week's action at the RSM Classic - you can read his preview here.
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".
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. 2015: Rory McIlroy, 5/1; 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 2016 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 15-20 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 above finished inside the top 7 for driving distance on the week. Firm fairways and warm weather will help the shorter hitters to a degree although this course is still very much on the long side at a touch under 7,700 yards. More average length drivers can perform well here - Ian Poulter, for instance, has a decent record here, as has Franceso Molinari, and Matt Fitzpatrick finished in a tie for 4th here last year, however the eventual winner has tended to be a long hitter. Henrik Stenson has the measure of this track from tee-to-green as is evident from his outstanding stats from his two wins and with that kind of accuracy he's been able to win without producing the best of putting 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.
Looking a little deeper at the past 4 winners here and we see that birdie-making and bogey avoidance is pretty important here:
Scoring was a little lower in 2014 when Stenson retained his title but generally the winner will have an excellent week on the par 4s whilst making birdie or better on around 60% of the par 5s during the course of the week.
In terms of incoming form, the past 4 winners here looked like this:
The 7 renewals haven't produced any massive shocks with Westwood (16/1), Karlsson (50/1), Quiros (40/1), McIlroy (6/1), Stenson (11/1 & 17/2) and McIlroy again (5/1) all backable for various reasons. Each of the winners here in the 7-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 respective careers.
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 (and the further down the better), 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.
Bookmaker Offers. A couple of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms this week at the DP World Tour Championship:
My selections are as follows:
With his destiny in his own hands, winning both the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai would be a fitting end to a fabulous season for Henrik Stenson. Aside from the countless contending performances, Silver Medal at the Olympics and his win in Germany at the BMW International Open, the 40 year-old's stunning victory at Royal Troon following an incredible tussle with Phil Mickelson secured the Swede a long-overdue first Major title and a round of golf that will go down in the history books as one of the very best under the circumstances. But his work isn't quite done for the year yet and a final week of focus and top-quality ball-striking can secure Henrik his second Race to Dubai title if he can hold off the challenges of Willett, Noren and McIlroy here this week in Dubai.
The past 4 renewals of this event have gone to either Stenson or McIlroy and it's no surprise to see clear daylight at the top of each bookmaker's list this week between the pair and all other contenders. Neither would it be a surprise to see them finish 1st and 2nd this week in either order. McIlroy has an impressive record here at the Earth Course finishing outside the top 5 just once in 7 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 and then again last year when he held the season-long lead heading into this event but the outcome was far less certain. It's a different scenario this year though as Rory, whilst still holding a mathematical chance, would need Stenson to have a real stinker this week and the performances of both Willett and Noren would need to go his way too. Aside from the fact that Rory is yet to successfully defend a professional title, I suspect that deep down Rory has already conceded defeat in this race and that may be the tiniest of deciding factors as to who might eventually lift this trophy.
Like Rory, Henrik's record on this course is exceptional. Wins in 2013, when he was nursing a wrist injury, then a successful defence the following year rubber-stamp his fit to the Earth Course and whilst last year's tailed-off effort doesn't look great, it's worth considering that he had little to play for other than pride at this point in time 12 months ago. Not so this year with Danny Willett improving considerably last week and compatriot Alex Noren firing on both cylinders at present. Put simply, Henrik needs to perform this week.
One thing I look for in Stenson's game statistically is his ball-striking ranking. We know he's incredibly capable from tee-to-green, however when he's in winning form he consistently tops that category. 1st last week at the Nedbank despite doing little more than going through the motions followed up an identical ranking on his previous start at Sheshan. Couple that 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 Open Champion 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 few years.
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. This won't be easy, granted, but for me Henrik Stenson is the most likely winner and deserves to be backed here accordingly.
The plunge of the week so far has been on enigmatic Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and I see no reason to oppose him here. Opening efforts from the bookmakers saw prices ranging from 40/1 to 90/1 about the 26 year-old, however blink and you missed the fancy odds with the market eventually settling at 50/1 being a fair price and still one worth taking on in my view.
The justification for Victor doesn't need a massive amount of research as a cursory look at his course form (3rd in 2013, 2nd in 2014) and last week's 3rd place effort, his best result since winning in Turkey just over a year ago, can quickly lead you to the conclusion that he may go well once again this week. With precious little room for manoeuvre in terms of paying places if both Stenson and McIlroy give it a good go this week, Dubuisson is the only player I feel happy to chance versus the favourites in the outright market. When he's on his 'A' game, the former World No.15 has no concern about the remainder of the field he's competing against or indeed beating - his maiden European Tour victory in Turkey saw him finish ahead of the likes of Woods, Stenson and Rose and when he followed up at the same event two years later it was at the expense of Rory McIlroy who could only manage a final day 71 to Dubuisson's 66. True, he's a difficult character to fathom, but when he's on his game he's capable of competing with and beating the very best in my view, it's just his consistency that lets him down.
In an odd year for Dubuisson which has contained as many missed cuts and withdrawals as it has paid weekends, last week's 3rd place finish was very much out-of-the-blue which was evident from his 175/1 price before the action started at Sun City. 2nd for Total Driving, joint 1st for Ball-Striking with Henrik Stenson and 1st for All-Round performance are eye-opening stats though and he's worth taking a chance on to continue that form for a second consecutive week as he's proven he can do a number of times in his career to date.
Without Stenson/McIlroy Markets
Working out how best to play this event from a betting perspective is almost as challenging as trying to find the winner with two such strong front-runners at the top of the betting. It's a distinct possibility that both Stenson and McIlroy will fill two of the paying places this week so backing longer-priced players in the outright market with a hope that they'll place isn't going to be easy. Taking the two favourites out of the equation though and accepting a lower price, but with a more realistic chance of finding a winner, is the way I'm going.
Two options this week that catch the eye:
There's some considerable differences in terms of prices between the two bookmakers in these markets so well worth checking both if you're contemplating this option.
First up, Thorbjorn Olesen who I'm backing with the Sky Bet option. Picking the Dane on the right week is never an easy task given his contending performances and wins often come from no discernable form to speak of, however with a 4th European Tour title tucked away a fortnight ago he's clearly playing some excellent golf at present. Last week's 63rd place finish in a limited field with no cut may not overly encourage, however the 26 year-old hasn't once followed up a European Tour victory with a contending performance the following week so that wasn't overly surprising; instead I'm happy to look at his performance in Turkey where he hit 83% of greens in regulation - the kind of number that he can produce when he's in winning form - and as we know he can putt extremely well on Bermudagrass greens.
The Earth Course is a track 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 during the 2014 event where he eventually finished 12th, having been right in contention until he found the water twice on the 18th hole on Saturday. Combine that with a record in the Middle East swing that includes 2nd at Abu Dhabi in 2013, 3rd in Qatar in 2014 as well as 2nd this year, plus 3rd (2013),5th (2014) and 8th (2016) at the Dubai Desert Classic, we have a player here who could well push the market leaders hard this week and oblige in this W/O market.
Finally I'm backing another able desert performer here this week in the shape of George Coetzee. Anyone who'd taken a punt on the 30 year-old last week may well scrub his name off of the list here without much further consideration as he went from an excellent position at halfway to a tie for 25th courtesy of an awful round of 82 on moving day. Tough conditions and a tough track don't marry well to the South African though and with larger fairways, larger greens and more free-flowing golf on offer here in Dubai this week, I'm prepared to look past that one bad round as the other 3 weren't bad at all and his 5th place finish the week before in Turkey was the fruition of some hard work that he's been putting into his game in recent times.
Long enough off the tee to contend here, George is another decent performer on Bermuda greens and has some strong form in the desert over the years including 5th at the Dubai Desert Classic (2012), 6th, 9th and 4th in Abu Dhabi (2012-14) and 2nd, 5th, 12th and 7th in Qatar (2013-16).
After injury and a loss of form over the summer, Coetzee is seemingly in a much better place now both physically and mentally as he explained in interview, "I've been feeling like I've been playing well the last couple of weeks. The game is finally starting to come together and it's nice to see the scores starting to show. I want to play better. I don't want to just win a couple of events and be happy with my career. I want to obviously strive for more," - if he can string 4 rounds together here this week then a return on this W/O market isn't too much of a stretch in my view.
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