After 11 long months of battle, the final event of the 2011 European Tour season is upon us as we head to the Greg Norman-designed Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai. With Europeans increasingly dominating World golf, this event almost has a Major feel about it and the quality of the field is second only to the Majors themselves, we're in for a cracker!
The story of the week will be all about Luke Donald versus Rory McIlroy as the only 2 players with a mathematical chance of taking the Race to Dubai title. Donald needs a top-9 finish to guarantee an unprecedented double having topped the PGA Tour money list earlier in the season, whereas McIlroy must win and hope that Donald fails to finish inside the top 9. Last year there was a similar story with Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell - in the end both players finished in a tie for 13th and the actual event itself was contested by players with slightly less hanging on their shoulders, are we in for a similar story this week?
The bookies make McIlroy and Westwood virtual joint-favourites - both hovering around the 11/2 mark following their wins last week. Rory has been struggling with a virus recently and was noticeably fatigued after last week (not that it stopped him winning!), whereas you have to go back over a decade since Westwood won back-to-back tournaments, however both are in imperious form and could easily win here. If you want to cover one or both of these players off then check out our no lose bets page where you can do so without risking your hard-earned cash!
A little further down the list we have World Number 1 Luke Donald at a best-priced 11/1 with Paddy Power. Luke's had a tough couple of months following his triumph at Disney to top the PGA Tour money list - he's become a father for the second time, plus lost his father Colin last month - and, whilst being a consummate professional, I suspect that he'll be aiming primarily for the top-9 position this week that will secure him the RTD title, rather than having the energy left to go all the way here too.
So what do we know of the Earth Course? It's a monster at 7,600+ 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 - think 17th at Sawgrass with a mid-iron! The fairways are quite wide and with dry weather on the lead-up to this week they'll be running hard and fast, so whilst length is an advantage it isn't the be-all and end-all. The greens are similar to Hong Kong in that they're large, undulating and reasonably quick Bermuda (12 on the stimp) - expect the players who putted well last week to feel the most comfortable here in Dubai, along with those who regularly perform well on the Gulf Swing earlier in the season.
One final point of note before my selections - in the 2 years of this event, every player who has finished in the top 5 both years already had a victory of some description to their name in that same season. The most tenuous of these is Padraig's Harrington's Irish PGA Championship victory in 2009, however the other 9 are rock solid. If this trend is to continue then you can reduce the field by half as you search for this week's winner!
I'm spending 12 points this week as follows:
This time last year Martin Kaymer was busy preparing to fend off GMac's assault on the Race to Dubai title - ultimately the German triumphed but in doing so didn't get close to contending for the event itself. This year is different - with all the focus on McIlroy and Donald, the former World number 1 can put all of his effort into winning back-to-back European Tour events after his WGC triumph in Shanghai last month. Having taken his foot off the pedal at the Nedbank last week once it was clear that Westwood wouldn't be caught, Kaymer will come here ready and raring to go.
The 26 year-old has an outstanding record on the European Tour Gulf Swing with 2 victories and 3 more top-4 finishes from the last 3 seasons in the Middle East, and this event sets up perfectly for his strengths in a part of the world that he's 100% comfortable. With good scores likely this week in Dubai, Kaymer proved once again how heavily he can score when he fired 9 birdies in his final 12 holes to take his first WGC title last month - with those positive vibes and the prospect of regaining 3rd position in the OWGR, as well as a bunch of Ryder Cup qualification points, I'm expecting the German to go very close this week. Don't forget, if you place this bet with Paddy Power and Kaymer finishes 2nd to an Englishman then you get your stake refunded - for full details click here: Paddy Power Offers RESULT: T11
Poults is the kind of player who builds towards a victory rather than explodes into form out of the blue and his recent progression is eye-catching. Following a poor run after his Volvo World MatchPlay title in May, he started to improve again at the Atlanta Athletic Club with a respectable top-40 finish. 13th in Shanghai, 2nd at the World Cup with Justin Rose and 4th last week after an indifferent Thursday round of 71 shows a player on a positive progression and this week presents a great opportunity to build on that flow of results.
There are many who'll argue that Poulter isn't long enough off the tee to compete around here, however 9th in 2009 and 2nd last year suggest otherwise. As I mentioned earlier, length isn't everything as there's a massive premium on hitting greens - and the right part of greens - and when Poulter's irons are working there are few better than him at finding greens in regulation. 6th last week in that department is perfect preparation and on his favourite Bermuda greens I can see the Englishman going very close to exorcising the demons of last year's playoff. RESULT: T22
2010 Open Champion is a player who'll relish the relative width off the tee here and a win would catapult him into the World's top 20 - with a form line of 5/4/19/7/3/8 in his last 6 strokeplay events worldwide, the South African is clearly playing some very tidy golf at the moment and is on the verge of securing another trophy for his cabinet in my opinion.
Oosthuizen is another of those players who performs well on the Gulf Swing - finishes of 5th & 2nd (Abu Dhabi), 2nd (Qatar) and 7th & 3rd (Dubai) in the last few seasons demonstrates his liking for golf in this neck of the woods. Louis has finished 12th & 13th here from his 2 events so far, however he's coming into this week in far better form and as a more accomplished player all round as far as I'm concerned. I think that the South African will be in the thick of things once again this week...RESULT: T6
Alvaro Quiros is one of those players that you just have to shortlist whenever a) they're playing in the Middle East, b) it's a long course and c) it's on Bermuda greens. Three ticks this week and the Spaniard is begging to be backed, however there's extra incentive for Mr Quiros this week - at 52nd on the OWGR he simply needs to perform this week if he's going to have another stab at The Masters next year.
Like Kaymer and Oosthuizen, Quiros has an outstanding record in the Middle East - his results are littered with contending performances plus a victory in Dubai earlier this term and runner-up positions in Qatar for the past 2 seasons. 3rd here last season was an excellent end to 2010 for Quiros and he'll be looking to improve on that this week. True he blew a 54-hole lead last week in Hong Kong, however that was his first really contending performance for some months and the ever-smiling Spaniard will brush that off easily and come back even stronger. RESULT: Winner
Of the short-priced players, Lee Westwood is the most likely to blow the chances of my selections above in my opinion - so I'll cover off my overall stake with a win-only punt of Worksop's finest. Plus, if you're not already a Unibet customer, they'll refund your stake up to £20 if this bet does lose - full details here: Unibet No Lose Bet Offer. If you've already used your Unibet no lose bet then try Bet770 (also 11/2 at the time of writing) or one of the other options here: no lose bets
Odds and bookmaker offers correct 17:10GMT 6.12.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.