After more than 11 months of battle – stretching all the way back to the end of November last year – we finally arrive at the season’s finale in Dubai. Tommy Fleetwood’s win last week at Sun City has given him a fighting chance of taking the Race to Dubai title for the second time in 3 seasons, however Bernd Wiesberger still holds a healthy advantage over the Englishman as well as over 3rd place Jon Rahm. Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick hold mathematical chances to take the overall title too, however with the permutations required for them to win are a little more convoluted and with a strong week it could be the Austrian’s to lose.
Changes to the structure of the final 3 European Tour events means that just 50 players tee it up here this year, as opposed to the normal 60, with all eligible players opting to play here this week at the time of writing with the exception of Tony Finau. As we’ve seen with the Turkish Airlines Open and last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, the first prize for the tournament winner has been inflated for 2019, this time to a massive $3m here this week. Coupled with the Bonus Pool, should the eventual winner take both titles then it would be a very nice payday indeed.
Fresh off of his win at the WGC HSBC Champions, Rory McIlroy rates as the clear favourite to win the tournament itself this week with a little bit of 9/2 still available at the time of writing. Jon Rahm at 7/1 is the only other single-digit chance in this no-cut event, with last week’s victor Tommy Fleetwood 3rd favourite at 14/1 in an event that’s seen a real mix of short- and mid-priced chances take the title over the years.
Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE. Designer: Greg Norman, 2009; Par: 72; Length: 7,677 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 7,677 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. Greens are large, undulating Bermudagrass which measure 12’6″ on the stimp when dry and firm 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 | Combined Stats.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2018: Danny Willett, 80/1; 2017: Jon Rahm, 12/1; 2016: Matthew Fitzpatrick, 66/1; 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.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Dubai is here. Thunderstorms on Wednesday may deposit around an inch of rain on the Earth Course which will make it a little more receptive than normal for the start of the event. For the 4 days of tournament play we should see dry and sunny conditions with temperatures peaking in the high 70s Fahrenheit, accompanied by light to moderate winds.
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:
- 2018, Danny Willett (-18). 302 yards (16th), 71.4% fairways (12th), 81.9% greens in regulation (3rd), 1.64 putts per GIR (1st)
- 2017, Jon Rahm (-19). 313 yards (4th), 66.1% fairways (22nd), 77.8% greens in regulation (26th), 1.64 putts per GIR (3rd)
- 2016, Matthew Fitzpatrick (-17). 298 yards (16th), 80.4% fairways (4th), 77.8% greens in regulation (21st), 1.65 putts per GIR (2nd)
- 2015, Rory McIlroy (-21). 322 yards (1st), 62.5% fairways (37th), 83.3% greens in regulation (4th), 1.67 putts per GIR (4th)
- 2014, Henrik Stenson (-16). 310 yards (2nd), 82.1% fairways (2nd), 83.3% greens in regulation (4th), 1.75 putts per GIR (16th)
- 2013, Henrik Stenson (-25). 300 yards (7th), 89.3% fairways (1st), 94.4% greens in regulation (1st), 1.71 putts per GIR (8th)
- 2012, Rory McIlroy (-23). 301 yards (2nd), 73.2% fairways (22nd), 69.4% greens in regulation (47th), 1.54 putts per GIR (1st)
- 2011, Alvaro Quiros (-19). 311 yards (1st), 53.6% fairways (55th), 83.3% greens in regulation (4th), 1.68 putts per GIR (7th)
- 2010, Robert Karlsson (-14). 298 yards (5th), 76.8% fairways (20th), 77.8% greens in regulation (12th), 1.63 putts per GIR (1st)
- 2009, Lee Westwood (-23). 298 yards (8th), 85.7% fairways (7th), 91.7% greens in regulation (1st), 1.68 putts per GIR (5th)
Up until Matt Fitzpatrick’s win in 2016, you could have argued with some conviction that length off the tee was pretty much a pre-requisite here at the Earth Course. From Lee Westwood in 2009 through to Rory McIlroy in 2015, each winner had ranked inside the top-8 for Driving Distance on the week and on 4 occasions the winner was in the top-2 for distance off the tee.
Now Fitzpatrick isn’t long by any stretch, however he has shown an ability to perform on longer tracks (a win at the Nordea Masters and 7th at Augusta spring to mind) and perhaps that’s actually the key factor in not being intimidated by the length here. More average length drivers can perform well – Ian Poulter, for instance, has a decent record here, as has Francesco Molinari – however shorter players need to make up for that handicap with an excellent performance from tee-to-green.
Looking a little deeper at the past 7 winners here and we see that birdie-making and bogey avoidance is pretty important:
- Danny Willett (2018): par 3 scoring -2; par 4: -4; par 5: -12; 1 Eagle, 23 Birdies and 7 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
- Jon Rahm (2017): par 3 scoring +1; par 4: -12; par 5: -8; 25 Birdies and 6 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
- Matthew Fitzpatrick (2016): par 3 scoring: -1; par 4: -4; par 5: -12; 1 Eagle, 21 Birdies, 4 Bogeys and 1 Double over the course of the 4 days.
- Rory McIlroy (2015): par 3 scoring:-2; par 4: -10; par 5: -9; 26 Birdies and 5 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
- Henrik Stenson (2014): par 3 scoring:-4; par 4: -4; par 5: -8; 23 Birdies, 5 Bogeys and 1 Double over the course of the 4 days.
- Henrik Stenson (2013): par 3 scoring:-1; par 4: -14; par 5: -10; 1 Eagle, 25 Birdies and 2 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
- Rory McIlroy (2012): par 3 scoring: level; par 4: -12; par 5: -11; 1 Eagle, 26 Birdies and 5 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
Generally the winner will have an excellent week on the par-4s whilst making birdie or better on around 50-60% of the par-5s during the course of the week. With a good forecast this week and relatively little wind to speak of, I’d expect the winning total to be around the 20-under mark and the winner to excel on the par-4s as well as the par-5s.
Incoming Form: In terms of incoming form, the winners here had all produced some decent results in the recent past before lifting the trophy, with each having registered at least one top-7 finish in their previous 6 starts.
Danny Willett’s season was solid if unspectacular before winning 12 months ago, however with his 3 top-10s all coming in good events in Italy, Ireland and Turkey, he was seemingly saving his best for the bigger weeks on Tour.
Before that, Rahm had won twice in the season already and had produced 4 top-7 finishes in the FedEx Cup PlayOffs before 3 less convincing efforts prior to his win. Fitzpatrick had finished 7th at Augusta before winning the Nordea Masters earlier in 2016, plus he’d produced a couple of top-10 finishes in his previous 8 starts. Rory had won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier in 2015 as well as the WGC Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship, plus had some decent incoming form.
In fact all of the winners had some positive form either recently and/or from the Middle East earlier that year to encourage punters:
- Danny Willett: 19/24/MC/18/MC/59/44/MC/MC/23/7/50
- Jon Rahm: 10/1/44/28/58/3/4/5/7/15/MC/36
- Matthew Fitzpatrick: MC/MC/49/6/5/MC/7/16/MC/49/16/20
- Rory McIlroy: 8/1/MC/MC/9/17/29/4/16/26/6/11
- Henrik Stenson: 5/4/2/39/19/3/38/26/23/2/24/3
- Henrik Stenson: 10/3/2/2/3/43/1/33/1/34/31/7
- Rory McIlroy: MC/10/60/5/1/24/1/1/10/2/3/MC
- Alvaro Quiros: MC/MC/53/MC/68/37/16/MC/49/7
- Robert Karlsson: WD/14/7/65/16/MC/42/29/2/34/MC/4
- Lee Westwood: 2/8/3/9/3/23/8/9/1/9/8/54
Course Form: Apart from the early renewals and Jon Rahm’s debut success 2 years ago, winners here generally had some decent course form prior to victory:
- Danny Willett: 26/21/4/50
- Jon Rahm: Debut
- Matthew Fitzpatrick: 4
- Rory McIlroy: 3/5/11/1/5/2
- Henrik Stenson: 23/24/7/1
- Henrik Stenson: 23/24/7
- Rory McIlroy: 3/5/11
- Alvaro Quiros: 42/3
- Robert Karlsson: Debut
- Lee Westwood: Debut
The 9 renewals haven’t produced any complete shocks with Westwood (16/1), Karlsson (50/1), Quiros (40/1), McIlroy (6/1), Stenson (11/1 & 17/2), McIlroy again (5/1), Fitzpatrick (66/1), Rahm (12/1) and Willett (80/1) all backable for various reasons.
Fitzpatrick and Rahm were probably the most difficult to find as each of the other winners here in the event’s history have an excellent record in the Middle East swing on the European Tour and each of those, except Westwood, had won either in Qatar, Dubai or both over the course of their respective careers.
Fitzpatrick did however back up his success here with a top-5 finish at the Dubai Desert Classic the following year plus Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge in the desert, so perhaps it’s more of a case that the pair hadn’t really had chance to show their hands fully before they won here.
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.
My selections are as follows: