Paul Williams

Paul Williams' DP World Tour Championship Tips 2021

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After nearly 11 months of battle, stretching all the way back to Abu Dhabi at the start of the year, we finally arrive at the season’s finale in Dubai.

Collin Morikawa heads the Race to Dubai by a little over 200 points from Billy Horschel, with the absent Jon Rahm in 3rd place. There’s clear water between that trio and the chasing pack, headed by Tyrrell Hatton, however with 12,000 points in total up for grabs this week across the field and 2,000 points to the winner, as to who actually wins the overall title will be determined by this week’s result. The top two have a clear advantage though and it would take something special for someone below that to win – full permutations are here.

As is the European Tour’s – soon to be DP World Tour’s – wont, the qualification criteria for this week’s event has mutated yet again this year, with the top 50 available players from the Race to Dubai in attendance, plus there are invites for both Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed. With the aforementioned Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose all missing, plus JB Hansen getting a spot courtesy of his win last week which presumably trumps the fact that he actually made it into the top 50 anyway as a result of that victory, James Morrison in 54th spot gets a start according to the entry list. So that’s the top 51 then plus another 2, but who am I to question the logic so let’s roll with that.

Of course, having the world number 1 skip this event for the second year running is a real hammer blow for the Tour, and Viktor Hovland’s omission is also a shame, however we’re still left with an excellent field, headed by Rory McIlroy at 6/1 and Collin Morikawa at 15/2.

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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.

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.

dp world tour championship tips

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. 2020: Matthew Fitzpatrick, 16/1; 2019: Jon Rahm, 7/1; 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.

For the 4 days of tournament play we should see dry and sunny conditions with temperatures peaking in the mid-80s Fahrenheit accompanied by light to moderate winds, reaching 10-15mph in the afternoons.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of recent winners gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited here:

  • 2020, Matthew Fitzpatrick (-15). 300 yards (16th), 76.8% fairways (1st), 76.4% greens in regulation (7th), 1.70 putts per GIR (5th)
  • 2019, Jon Rahm (-19). 315 yards (8th), 67.9% fairways (8th), 87.5% greens in regulation (1st), 1.65 putts per GIR (1st)
  • 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.

The most consistent statistic from the winners detailed above, aside from tee-to-green performance, has been putting on these Bermudagrass greens. Henrik Stenson’s win in 2014 saw him rank 16th in the field for putting average which is the worst on show – indeed both Jon Rahm and Danny Willett topped that stat when proving victorious in 2018 and 2019, whereas Matt Fitzpatrick was 5th on that count last year.

Looking a little deeper at the past 9 winners here and we see that birdie-making and bogey avoidance is also pretty important:

  • Matthew Fitzpatrick (2020): par 3 scoring level; par 4: -7; par 5: -8; 22 Birdies, 7 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
  • Jon Rahm (2019): par 3 scoring -2; par 4: -4; par 5: -13; 1 Eagle, 25 Birdies, 6 Bogeys and a Double over the course of the 4 days.
  • 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.

Strokes Gained: 2020 was the first time that we got a view of Strokes Gained performance here at the Earth Course and in truth it didn’t tell us much more than we might have inferred from observing the renewals here over the years.

The best 6 finishers last year all ranked inside the top 8 for SG Tee to Green, accompanied by either a lofty SG Off the Tee and/or SG Approach ranking. Add a decent putting week to the equation, as Matt Fitzpatrick did, and you have a winning combination:

  • 1st, Matthew Fitzpatrick. T: 8th; A: 33rd; T2G: 8th; ATG: 7th; P: 1st
  • 2nd, Lee Westwood. T: 6th; A: 3rd; T2G: 3rd; ATG: 36th; P: 15th
  • 3rd, Viktor Hovland. T: 4th; A: 5th; T2G: 4th; ATG: l7th; P: 22nd
  • 3rd, Patrick Reed. T: 45th; A: 7th; T2G: 1st; ATG: 1st; P: 50th
  • 5th, Laurie Canter. T: 2nd; A: 6th; T2G: 5th; ATG: 49th; P: 31st
  • 5th, Sami Valimaki. T: 35th; A: 4th; T2G: 7th; ATG: 25th; P: 10th

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

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.

Matt Fitzpatrick’s win last year came after a fortnight’s break following a missed cut at the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic. 46th at The Masters the week before is nothing of note, however prior to that he’d sat 7th heading into Sunday at the Zozo Championship, 7th to halfway at the CJ Cup and held the lead after 36 holes at Wentworth, so was clearly playing some solid golf.

Jon Rahm hadn’t played for 7 weeks before he won here in 2019, with his previous start at the Spanish Open also producing silverware. 4th in the world when arriving here, the Spaniard had also won the Irish Open earlier that year on the European Tour and had finished 2nd to Danny Willett at Wentworth a couple of weeks before his homeland win.

Danny Willett’s season was solid if unspectacular before winning 2 years 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:

  • Matthew Fitzpatrick: 3/6/MC/MC/6/MC/42/7/12/26/46/MC
  • Jon Rahm: MC/3/2/1/11/7/3/5/13/2/MC/1
  • 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 in 2017, winners here generally had some decent course form prior to victory:

  • Matthew Fitzpatrick: 4/1/12/34/9
  • Jon Rahm: 1/4
  • 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

With Matt Fitpatrick’s win here last December, we’ve also now seen 4 repeat winners with Rory Mcilroy, Henrik Stenson and Jon Rahm also winning the title twice.

The 11 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), Willett (80/1), Rahm (7/1) and Fitzpatrick (16/1) all backable for various reasons.

Fitzpatrick (2016) and Rahm on debut (2017) 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 before winning this title again 2 years ago, 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. Of course, Fitzpatrick winning this title again last year demonstrates how comfortable he feels in these surroundings.

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:

Matt Fitzpatrick 3pts EW 16/1 (7EW, 1/5) with William Hill

If we’re going to start this week by opposing the formidable pair at the top of the betting, then it needs to be with someone who’s proven to have the mettle to take down a title such as this, and in that respect defending champion Matt Fitzpatrick fits the bill.

With McIlroy’s split from Pete Cowen confirmed and Michael Bannon back in sole charge of his swing, it would be no surprise to see Rory build on his CJ Cup win last month and set the scene for a big 2022 where he threatens the OWGR number 1 spot once again and looks to add to his Major tally.

Off the tee the Northern Irishman was strong at Summit, ranking 2nd for Strokes Gained in that respect, however only 10 players were worse than him with his approach play over the 4 rounds and the bulk of the damage was done with the putter, which isn’t always guaranteed to fire for Rory. 2 wins here at the Earth Course and at a pressure-free 20th in the rankings, we can’t and shouldn’t write off McIlroy, however if we wins at the price on offer then so be it.

Open Champion Collin Morikawa is equally difficult to shift. 10th here on debut last year and arriving with incoming form of 2nd (CJ Cup) and 7th (Zozo Championship), the 24 year-old undoubtedly has the game to master the Earth Course. Entering this week at the top of the Race to Dubai charts adds a level of pressure though and players can become a little distracted by defending their overall position in weeks such as this, rather than focussing 100% on winning the actual golf tournament. I’d expect him to be a feature of course, however unless Billy Horschel is pushing for the title on debut, Morikawa may well be able to get away with something less than victory here.

At 6th in the rankings, Fitzpatrick is probably too far adrift of the likes of Morikawa and Horschel to be feeling any significant pressure for actually winning the whole shebang, despite it being mathematically possible, however there’s still very good money to be made from the tournament itself and a lofty finish up the rankings, and in that respect the Englishman has previous.

4th here on debut in 2015, Matt followed that up with a win the following year to elevate him 20 places in the overall ranking and bank a nice cheque by finishing in 7th spot on the Race to Dubai, alongside his tournament winner’s prize of course.

12th when defending the following year, 9th in 2019 and then victory again last year cements his liking for this course that clearly rewards his excellent ball-striking and strong putting, despite being on the long side.

Last year’s win wasn’t quite enough to deny Lee Westwood the Race to Dubai title, however from 16th at the start of the week, 2nd overall in the season-long rankings was an excellent result and there’s no real reason to suspect he can’t and won’t put in a big performance this week.

Victory at last month’s Andalucia Masters was described by the 27 year-old as a ‘bucket list’ victory, coming at the iconic Valderrama, and despite a couple of indifferent outings since on the PGA Tour, I suspect that this week has always been the target for his next peak in form.

Matt proved with his 2018 success at Crans-sur-Sierre that he’s quite capable of defending a title and he led here at the halfway point when defending his title the first time around in 2017. With the disappointment of the Ryder Cup in the past now courtesy of his win last month, I can see the Sheffield man building on that further here this week. RESULT: T2

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Thomas Pieters 1.5pts EW 35/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Ladbrokes

It can sometimes prove to be a long time between drinks when betting on golf, and the same can undoubtedly be said about playing the game at the highest level. It was a little over 2 years since Thomas Pieters won the D&D Real Czech Masters in 2019 before he finally got over the line once again a fortnight ago, winning the Portugal Masters at the 5th time of asking.

Like here at the Earth Course, Pieters’ best finish was 6th prior to his win and although that’s a happy coincidence to build into the narrative, it does show that the Belgian had shown some aptitude for the course and that adds a little encouragement given his identical finish here in 2019. 5 other efforts have produced finishes ranging from 12th to 56th, however he’s generally enjoyed the greens here – ranking 1st, 6th and 6th (again) for putting average from those 6 starts – and that bodes well given how sharp his long game looked on the Algarve.

14th for SG Off the Tee, 4th for SG Approach and 1st for SG Tee to Green was a mighty impressive performance from the 29 year-old at Vilamoura, rounded off with the guile to make a tricky par save on the 16th, the power to take on the par 5 in 2 on the 17th, and the determination to close the door on the 18th with a classy 20 footer for par. The confidence that will give him should be immense, and after a sensible week off to recharge his batteries he may well pick up where he left off this week.

We saw first hand in 2015 that Thomas is capable of winning twice in quick succession when he picked up his first and second European Tour wins in the space of a fortnight; with spirits high and his temperament seemingly much more in check, perhaps we’ll see a repeat performance here this week. RESULT: 15th

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Laurie Canter 1pt EW 50/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Getting carried away with backing players at silly long prices hasn’t tended to work here at the Earth Course, however there have been 4 winners in the 40/1 to 80/1 bracket over the years and I’ll finish off the season with a trio of selections in that range.

First up, Laurie Canter whose 5th place finish here last year on debut backs up the assertion that his long game excellence fits this track like a glove. 2nd for SG Off the Tee, 6th for SG Approach and 5th for SG Tee to Green here last December is exactly what we’re looking for in a player who can get himself into contention here, and the 32 year-old backed that effort up with more form in the region when finishing 4th at the Dubai Desert Classic 6 weeks later.

The main issue with Canter of course is that he’s yet to win as a professional, be that at either Challenge Tour or European Tour level. A play-off defeat to Dale Whitnell at the 2019 KPMG Trophy on the lower tier is the closest that the Somerset native has come thus far on paper, however a runner-up finish this year at Wentworth is excellent Rolex Series form and he’s since finished inside the top 5 at the Andalucia Masters and Mallorca Open.

A missed cut at Vilamoura on his last start may dampen the enthusiasm of some punters, however he’s often interspersed weekends off with decent efforts, and a bounce back to contending form this week on a course that he enjoyed 11 months ago isn’t out of the equation, nor is an each-way payout given the extended terms on offer in this short field. RESULT: T27

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Victor Perez 1pt EW 66/1 (5EW, 1/4) with Unibet

I backed Victor Perez last week and whilst he ultimately disappointed with a tie for 24th place, there was nevertheless a lot to take away from his performance and certainly enough for me to keep the faith here this week.

I wrote about how the Frenchman’s form had been up and down since winning the Dunhill Links in 2019 in my preview last week so I won’t repeat myself here, however this event provided one of the highlights I mentioned when he finished 7th here last year, having recorded a 20th place finish on debut the year before, and he has the scope to develop that trend further here this week.

After a trio of missed cuts in October, Victor has found some positives in his game in November, firstly with an 8th place finish at Vilamoura where he was 2nd for SG Putting, then his aforementioned effort last week where he closed with a 65 which was beaten by just one player on the day.

Stats were only captured for the 29 year-old over the weekend, however at 82.1% fairways and 90.3%  GIR for the final two days, he’s got to take some confidence into this week as he looks to get himself back inside the OWGR top 50, having dropped the wrong side of the magic figure in late August. RESULT: T46

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Danny Willett 1pt EW 55/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Finally, I’ll round off the 2021 season with a punt on the course-proven Danny Willett.

I say punt as you never quite know what to expect with the 2016 Masters Champion – by his own admission, his best is very good indeed but in between times there’s a lot of dross. That’s borne out by 41 missed cuts from his last 100 starts, yet within that time he’s won this title here in Dubai, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and, most recently, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship 6 weeks ago.

That list of victories above, which followed on from 4 more ‘regular’ European Tour successes between 2012 and 2016, tells a story in my view. Following his Masters success 5 years ago, Danny has managed to peak for some of the Tour’s biggest events in the best company, whereas other lower-grade events have been of less interest to the 34 year-old and have often resulted in a poor finish or missed cut.

Success at the Dubai Desert Classic prior to that Augusta triumph bolsters his overall form in the desert, and he arrives here in a stress-free 24th in the rankings with nothing to lose this week. A new putter in the bag at the Dunhill Links claimed the headlines, however 87.5% GIR was an eye-catching stat for that week and more of the same here could see him threatening another addition to the roll call of multiple Earth Course winners. RESULT: T39

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