Paul Williams

Paul Williams' AVIV Dubai Championship Tips 2021

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The first part of our European Tour double-header to close out the 2021 season takes us to the Fire Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, as players attempt to either qualify for next week’s DP World Tour Championship at the neighbouring Earth Course, or to sneak into the top 122 to secure full playing rights for 2022 if they’re further down the rankings.

With the withdrawal of last week’s winner Thomas Pieters from the early field, Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood have been left as the clear favourites for this week’s test at around the 11/1 mark. Bernd Wiesberger rates as an 18/1 chance as the 3rd favourite with 25/1 bar the rest of the field.

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Course Overview. The Fire Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates is described as the more familiar Earth Course’s sister. At 7,480 yards for its par of 72 and constructed in the desert, the fundamental building blocks for the Fire and Earth are the same and the grasses used for fairways and greens are shared between both tracks.

Fire though is designed to be easier and more suitable to the travelling golfer, and carries a handicap course rating of 110 against Earth’s 140. Aesthetically the grass around the holes is longer and wispier and coupled with its location on the edge of the Jumeirah Estate which is more exposed, the course almost has a links-like feel to it in places.

The par-5s are attackable albeit long, however the topography of the holes allows aggressive shots that will reward those brave enough to take them on. Two further short par-4s on the 1st and 16th holes also encourage some of the longer hitters to see how close they can get to the green from off the tee.

aviv dubai championship tips

Tournament Stats. Last year’s event here is the only course form we have to go on – the results from 12 months ago are included in the combined stats page: Current Form Stats | FRL StatsCombined Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Dubai is here.

Sunshine is expected with temperatures hitting around 85 Fahrenheit in the afternoons on each of the four competition days. Winds will be light for morning starters, picking up to around 10-12 mph later in the day, as is often the case around these parts.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

The stats from last year’s leading contenders give us a little insight into the requirements for this week’s test:

  • 1st, Antoine Rozner (-25). 326 yards (1st). 64.3% fairways (41st), 76.4% greens in regulation (35th), 76.5% scrambling (14th), 1.66 putts per GIR (17th)
  • 2nd, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (-23). 315 yards (11th). 60.7% fairways (47th), 69.5% greens in regulation (65th), 72.7% scrambling (22nd), 1.54 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 2nd, Francesco Laporta (-23). 294 yards (58th). 80.4% fairways (2nd), 82.0% greens in regulation (9th), 92.3% scrambling (1st), 1.64 putts per GIR (10th)
  • 2nd, Matt Wallace (-23). 309 yards (23rd). 60.7% fairways (47th), 72.3% greens in regulation (54th), 80.0% scrambling (7th), 1.57 putts per GIR (3rd)
  • 2nd, Andy Sullivan (-23). 305 yards (33rd). 66.1% fairways (35th), 83.3% greens in regulation (8th), 91.7% scrambling (2nd), 1.68 putts per GIR (22nd)

Stats in all categories were pretty high across the board which makes sense when you consider that 25-under was the winning total.

Fairways were pretty easy to find with even the more flagrant players finding the short grass well over half of the time; scrambling stats were also very high to suggest that the key to unlocking this course is either dialled in irons and/or a red hot putter. Indeed Andy Sullivan’s putts per GIR rank of 22nd in the field was the worst on show from those listed above and ultimately that thawing of the flat stick after an incredible start to the event ultimately cost him victory.

Strokes Gained: From a Strokes Gained perspective, eventual winner Antoine Rozner topped SG Off the Tee and was 2nd for SG Tee to Green whilst still putting nicely enough. Similar to the traditional stats above, Mike Lorenzo-Vera shone with the flat stick, whereas that was Andy Sullivan’s weak spot:

  • 1st, Antoine Rozner. T: 1st; A: 8th; T2G: 2nd; ATG: 46th; P: 13th
  • 2nd, Mike Lorenzo-Vera. T: 14th; A: 58th; T2G: 42nd; ATG: 29th; P: 1st
  • 2nd, Francesco Laporta. T: 4th; A: 15th; T2G: 6th; ATG: 38th; P: 14th
  • 2nd, Matt Wallace. T: 63rd; A: 6th; T2G: 12th; ATG: 5th; P: 5th
  • 2nd, Andy Sullivan. T: 16th; A: 2nd; T2G: 1st; ATG: 33rd; P: 31st.

Key: T: SG Off the Tee; A; SG Approach; T2G: SG Tee to Green; ATG: SG Around the Green; P: SG Putting.

Scoring Breakdown: It was red numbers all the way last year with an average of 6/7 birdies per day required and keeping bogeys to an absolute minimum:

  • 1st, Antoine Rozner. Par 3: -3; Par 4: -9; Par 5: -13; Eagles: 2; Birdies: 25; Bogeys/Worse: 4
  • 2nd, Mike Lorenzo-Vera. Par 3: -1; Par 4: -11; Par 5: -11; Eagles: 1; Birdies: 28; Bogeys/Worse: 7
  • 2nd, Francesco Laporta. Par 3: +1; Par 4: -12; Par 5: -12; Eagles: 0; Birdies: 28; Bogeys/Worse: 5
  • 2nd, Matt Wallace. Par 3: -2; Par 4: -13; Par 5: -8; Eagles: 2; Birdies: 24; Bogeys/Worse: 4
  • 2nd, Andy Sullivan. Par 3: -1; Par 4: -12; Par 5: -10; Eagles: 1; Birdies: 25; Bogeys/Worse: 4

Par 4 and Par 5 scoring was critical judging by the numbers above, however at an aggregate 149-over par for the entire field, the Par 3s presented much more of a challenge and ensuring that those holes don’t ruin a player’s chances is just as important.

Incoming Form: Antoine Rozner had recorded 3 top-10 finishes in his last 11 starts heading into this event last year and was on a run of 5 consecutive top-30 finishes before converting last December.

Francesco Laporta would have been tough to spot on current form alone, however Mike Lorenzo Vera had an 8th place finish at the Dubai Desert Classic from earlier in the season to his name, Matt Wallace had missed out on a great chance to win the Scottish Championship a few weeks prior, and Andy Sullivan was a post-lockdown winner at the English Championship:

  • 1st, Antoine Rozner. 60/10/26/MC/MC/3/36/28/10/21/24/20
  • 2nd, Mike Lorenzo-Vera. 34/8/MC/66/MC/43/MC/42/MC
  • 2nd, Francesco Laporta.55/57/MC/MC/57/MC/68/50/MC/42/30/MC
  • 2nd, Matt Wallace. 4/59/77/MC/19/43/30/24/2/48/46/37
  • 2nd, Andy Sullivan. 21/4/41/1/47/9/MC/MC/26/3/58/MC

Birdies, bogey avoidance and surviving the Par 3s were the order of the day last year, whilst making hay on the Par 4s and Par 5s. Similar, scoreable conditions are expected this year so a winning total in excess of 20-under is likely to be required so players who can score heavily and consistently should be favoured.

My final selections are as follows:

Min Woo Lee 2.5pts EW 28/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

The Monday withdrawal of Portugal Masters winner Thomas Pieters from this week’s field takes away one dilemma having seen the Belgian win twice in quick succession in the past, however that still leaves the quality of Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood heading this week’s field.

Both players have the ability to step down to the European Tour and swat away the lower-grade opposition with relative ease, and as ever it’s tough to justify backing against them. Casey’s long game has been indifferent of late which may help us a little, resulting in finishes of 64th, 38th, MC and 25th over his past 4 starts on the PGA Tour, however form prior to that was pretty impressive at elite level it has to be said.

Fleetwood, on the other hand, has seen his results improving as Casey’s have been dropping backwards, with 2nd at the Italian Open, 7th at the Dunhill Links and 7th at the Zozo Championship in recent times. If I were to be pushed then Fleetwood would be my preference given his more positive momentum, however both should be targeting next week for their peak performance and to that end I’ll back a hungry young buck in the shape of Min Woo Lee to take the chance of winning a 3rd European Tour title this week instead.

At 6th in the Race to Dubai, Lee’s position on the season-long charts has been achieved the hard way with most of the players he’s rubbing shoulders with having gained their elevated positions from performances at Majors and WGCs. Victory at the Scottish Open was the biggest contributor to the Australian’s cause given it was at Rolex Series level, however 21st at the British Masters, 17th at the Irish Open, 12th at the Italian Open, 8th at the Portugal Masters and 2nd at Valderrama are all commendable efforts in 2021 that have bolstered his position.

Exposed tracks seem to be the forte of the 23 year-old who adopts the stinger with ease when it’s called upon, and I suspect we’ll see his record improve over time in the desert to compliment an already strong links(y) record with the Vic Open and Scottish Open already to his name. 4th at the Saudi International in 2019 in strong company is a case in point and the almost linksy features here in places will likely suit his eye on debut.

Poor form in the desert to start 2021 can best be explained by a long game that wasn’t remotely close to firing on all cylinders; recent outings of 2nd at Valderrama – which really doesn’t suit – saw him rank 1st for SG Off the Tee and 5th for SG Tee to Green, and he was only slightly off those heights last week in Portugal on his was to 8th place overall.

With Australian golf on a high after Lucas Herbert’s win on the PGA Tour the week before last, seeing Min Woo Lee convert another European Tour victory while his game’s in good shape would not surprise me one iota. RESULT: T4

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Dean Burmester 2pts EW 33/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

It’s been fantastic and hopefully it can continue and I can show this form in some of the biggest events in the world. I just want to give my family a good life through my golf,” the words of Dean Burmester after winning the SA PGA Championship on Sunday on the Sunshine Tour.

The quote is relevant in my mind as it shows a level of intent for this week and next, or at least implies as much. Truth is, I had the 32 year-old in mind for this week before he proved victorious at St Francis Links, although his win did make me reassess his chances for this week. I’ll stick to my guns though and work on the basis that his success will give him the momentum for further fireworks at European Tour level, rather than his game prove to have already peaked a week early.

The reason he was shortlisted for this event before last week’s effort was simply that he ticks pretty much every box that I’m interested in. Like last year’s winner Antoine Rozner, Dean is one of the longest hitters on Tour and that should open this course up for him as it did for last year’s champion. Rozner also featured prominently on Bogey Avoidance and Scrambling stats, suggesting that this course is as much about keeping a clean card as it is carding red numbers, and at 26th and 21st for the season on those two counts, Burmester is right up there with category leaders.

Aside from last week’s effort, the Zimbabwe-born bomber also won in Tenerife earlier in the year to add a second European Tour title to his tally, carding a terrific 25-under total on the Bermuda greens there to secure a 5-stoke victory; with similar agronomy and similar scoring conditions expected, that effort could prove to be a very good pointer. 4th the week after that victory also suggests he can maintain top form when he finds it, which is encouraging given last week’s result.

7th in Abu Dhabi in 2017, 3rd at the Dubai Desert Classic and 11th in Saudi in 2020, plus 4th twice at the neighbouring Earth Course here at Jumeirah in 2017 and 2018, demonstrates his comfort in this part of the world. With this week and next to attack, he can build on his 19th spot on the Race to Dubai and career-best 86th in the OWGR where he currently finds himself, and in turn really start to fulfil the sentiment in that quote from Sunday’s success. RESULT: T44

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Victor Perez 1.5pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Boylesports

3 straight missed cuts in October at the Dunhill Links, Spanish Open and Andalucia Masters looked to signal the end of a brief renaissance from Victor Perez in the late summer, however 8th last week on his Vilamoura debut was eye-catching and I’m happy to give him a chance here at a solid price.

In truth, that small upturn in form we witnessed in August and September that saw the Frenchman sit in 6th place after 54 holes at both the Cazoo Classic and Italian Open was too little, too late for a player who had a live chance of sneaking into the Ryder Cup team due to its elongated qualification period. Perhaps the pressure got too much for the 29 year-old after he won the Dunhill Links in 2019 and followed that up with runner-up finishes in Turkey and Abu Dhabi before everyone’s world changed. Maybe he had far too much time to dwell on his likely – at the time – debut appearance in Padraig Harrington’s team and that took its toll.

2nd at Wentworth, 7th at the Earth Course, 4th at the Saudi International, 9th at the Players Championship and 4th at the WGC Match Play saw Victor reach a career-high 29th in the OWGR after lockdown eased and everything seemed to be on track before his results collapsed, yet on paper those efforts are in the main great form for this week. Wentworth and the WGC were both in decent company, Dubai and Saudi were in the desert, and TPC Sawgrass is played on Bermuda greens like this week, and replicating anything close to the form he found on any of those weeks here in a truncated, weaker field has got to give him a chance.

Last week’s effort started slowly with a round of 72, followed up by scores of 68,68 and 65 to record his best finish globally since that aforementioned WGC, and for a player more renowned for his long game skills it was refreshing to see the putter doing the damage last week, ranking 2nd for SG putting overall on the week. Couple that with anything approaching his best form from tee to green and he’ll be a live contender here this week. RESULT: T24

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Mike Lorenzo-Vera 1pt EW 125/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Finally I’ll take a chance on one of last year’s runners-up here at the Fire Course, and not the more obvious pick in Francesco Laporta who finished 7th last week to ensure that his chance was telegraphed to all. Instead I’m backing Mike Lorenzo-Vera at a juicy 3-figure price now that he’s back in the desert where he does much of his best work.

Working out exemptions for next season given the Covid-related extensions and varying tiers of tournament stature on the European Tour is a minefield, however with a Tour maiden like Lorenzo-Vera, the equation should be quite simple – top 122 in the Race to Dubai or face the re-ranked ‘safety net’ for next season, which will undoubtedly see some limitation on where and when he gets to play. At 148th in the rankings, any positive strides he can make this week have to be taken.

8th heading into Sunday at Rolex Series level in Abu Dhabi to start the year promised so much, however a final round 76 put paid to that dream and from there 2021 has been pretty poor for Mike, as is evidenced by his R2D position. The odd flashes of form including a 65 to Open the Gran Canaria Open and a 64 to close the British Masters have been too few and between, however as the season has meandered towards its conclusion, so the Frenchman has hinted at a little more form at times.

17th at the Spanish Open saw Lorenzo-Vera record 4 rounds in the 60s for the first time in 2021 with a clean sweep of positive Strokes Gained figures, and he followed that up with 25th at Valderrama where his biggest asset, his putter, was working nicely once again.

Narrow missed cuts in Mallorca and Portugal since have kept a lid on his price despite last year’s 2nd place finish here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn those recent finishes on their head now that he’s back in a part of the world that he clearly enjoys. 10th, 4th and 2nd in Qatar from his last 4 attempts; 8th at last year’s Dubai Desert Classic followed up his 3rd on the Earth Course here at Jumeirah the autumn before, and he has the game to add to that list of fine desert efforts here this week. RESULT: T44

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