After 11 months of battle, stretching all the way back to the Joburg Open and Australian PGA Championship last November, we finally arrive at the season’s finale in Dubai.
Such is Rory McIlroy’s lead at the top of the Race to Dubai rankings that this week’s event is of no consequence to the season-long standings – the Northern Irishman secured the Harry Vardon Trophy on Sunday without lifting a club as none of his closest competitors could get within 2,000 points of his total for 2023. A damp squib in that respect of course, however there’s plenty more to fight for with a $10 prize fund, Race to Dubai bonus pool, and the 10 PGA Tour cards to be concluded.
As per the last two years, the top 50 available players from the season-long ranking are in attendance, and at the time of writing all of the top 50 are committed to the field. The bookies are struggling to split the top 3 in the betting though with each of McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland available at around the 5/1 mark, give or take. 2-time Earth Course champion Matt Fitzpatrick at 14/1 is the closest to the leading trio in this no-cut event, alongside compatriots Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood.
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.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2022: Jon Rahm, 5/1; 2021: Collin Morikawa, 15/2; 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 in the main with temperatures peaking in the high-80s Fahrenheit, accompanied by light to moderate winds reaching 10-15mph in the afternoons. Friday carries a 50% chance of a thunderstorm, however it remains to be seen if that materialises or not.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors. Analysing the final stats of recent winners gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited here:
2022, Jon Rahm (-20). 307 yards (13th), 42.9% fairways (46th), 77.8% greens in regulation (8th), 1.61 putts per GIR (1st)
2021, Collin Morikawa (-17). 302 yards (10th), 64.3% fairways (5th), 79.2% greens in regulation (7th), 1.72 putts per GIR (15th)
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, and Rahm again led the field for Putts per GIR on his way to victory here 12 months ago.
Looking a little deeper at the past 10 winners here and we see that birdie-making and bogey avoidance is also pretty important:
Jon Rahm (2022): par 3 scoring-3; par 4: -7; par 5: -10; 1 Eagle, 22 Birdies, 4 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
Collin Morikawa (2021): par 3 scoring level; par 4: -7; par 5: -10; 21 Birdies, 4 Bogeys over the course of the 4 days.
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: 2019 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 previous renewals here over the years.
Looking at the four renewals overall, SG Tee to Green and SG Around the Green are the most consistent factors between the winners:
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.
Jon Rahm bagged his third DP World Tour Championship title from 4 attempts here last year off the back of some very clear form, finishing 2nd at Wentworth before romping to victory at the Spanish Open. 4th at the CJ Cup on his last start ensured he was a short price for this and he duly obliged at 5/1.
2021’s Champion Golfer of the Year Collin Morikawa hadn’t won since his Open Championship triumph at Royal St George’s in July, however with 2nd to Rory McIlroy at the CJ Cup and 7th at the ZOZO Championship on the PGA Tour over his previous two starts, there was plenty of evidence that he was in decent nick.
Matt Fitzpatrick’s win in 2020 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:
Jon Rahm: 1/48/10/12/55/34/5/8/16/2/1/4
Collin Morikawa: 14/2/4/71/1/4/26/MC/63/28/2/7
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:
Jon Rahm: 1/4/1
Collin Morikawa: 10
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
Following Matt Fitpatrick’s win here in 2020, we’ve also seen 4 repeat winners with Rory Mcilroy, Henrik Stenson also winning the title twice, whilst Jon Rahm has now triumphed on three occasions.
The 14 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), Fitzpatrick (16/1), Morikawa (15/2) and Rahm (5/1) all backable for various and sometimes very obvious 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 twice since, 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 in 2020 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:
Nicolai Hojgaard 2pts EW 28/1 (5EW, 1/5) with Unibet
Only a cursory glance at the winners here at the Earth Course tells us that opposing the favourites in the season’s finale is a dangerous game. McIlroy’s won this twice at 6/1 or shorter; Rahm’s 3 wins have come at 12/1, 7/1 and then 5/1 last year; even Collin Morikawa’s win here in 2021 was at 15/2 when the American was the clear 2nd favourite behind Rory.
McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland are virtually inseparable at the top of the betting at around 5/1 and undoubtedly any one of the trio could win this. I wonder though if this year’s dynamic, driven by Rory having already been crowned as the Race to Dubai champion before a ball is hit, will result in a winner from further down the board. Certainly the incentive to succeed is somewhat reduced for the market leaders, plus each of them has had a very light schedule of late – indeed Rahm’s 9th place finish at the Spanish Open is the only outing from the trio since Wentworth, Ryder Cup aside of course.
Let’s be brave and look elsewhere for the winner, and of those in the next tier or two in the betting Nicolai Hojgaard interests me most.
With the terms of his Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour requiring him to better the points tally of the player in 125th place by the end of this week’s RSM Classic over in the States, the Dane has taken a calculated risk that his current tally of 466 points – equivalent to 115th place – will be enough, and I suspect that he’ll be proven right.
That decision has freed the 22 year-old up to complete his season on the DP World Tour, and 2nd last week at the Nedbank behind an impressive Max Homa could be just the warm-up he needs for an assault on the season’s finale.
The numbers falling out of last week’s effort were impressive on a course where he’d struggled beforehand, particularly on and around the greens where he ranked 9th for Scrambling and led the field for Putts per GIR as well as Strokes Gained Putting. History has told us that the eventual winner often produces a similar performance here when it comes to minimising bogeys and maximising chances, and a repeat performance here coupled with a typically strong performance from tee-to-green could see him seriously challenge the market principals.
4th here on debut in 2021 is the only course form we have to go on, however there’s enough encouragement in that effort to suggest he can go well again, plus he’s also got the 2022 Ras Al Khaimah Championship trophy in his growing collection to demonstrate that he’s happy and comfortable in this part of the world.
70th in the OWGR is tantalisingly close to the world’s top 50, and even if he were to fall just short of that level with his effort this week, further progress and entry into that elite club ahead of next year’s Major season will be another big priority for the talented Dane. RESULT: Winner
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With his PGA Tour card sewn up for next year courtesy of his breakthrough Corales Championship win back in March, Matt Wallace is another who could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big guns this week and I’m happy to stick with him after he finished 15th last week at Sun City.
I talked last week about how the Englishman had shown some decent form when returning from the United States, finishing 6th at the Dunhill Links and 9th at the Qatar Masters, and although his effort at the Nedbank was ultimately enough to see him make the top 50 and ease into this week’s field, it could have been much better if it weren’t for a Saturday round of 77 having entered the weekend in a tie for 8th place. To his credit, Matt bounced back on Sunday, closing with a bogey-free round of 67 where he led the field for GIR with 16 out of 18 greens hit, and that should give him some confidence ahead of this week.
At 87th in the OWGR, Matt will, like the aforementioned Nicolai Hojgaard, be looking to build positive momentum into his world ranking ahead of next season so that he can ensure he’s playing all of the biggest events, and this week’s limited but quality field presents another big opportunity in that respect.
Wallace also has course form to suggest he can go well here at the Earth Course. 2nd here on debut back in 2018 behind Danny Willett came in the 33 year-old’s breakthrough year on the DP World Tour, having won 3 times earlier that season; with his maiden PGA Tour title having come earlier this year, perhaps he can produce something similar here again this week. RESULT: T2
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With the fight for the 10 PGA Tour cards concluding this week and Jorge Campillo currently in possession of one of those cards from his lofty position of 13th in the Race to Dubai, keeping his foot to the floor for one final week to get over the line has got to be priority number 1 for the Spaniard.
In truth it’s been an excellent season for the 37 year-old, having produced a purple patch of form in the spring which contained his 3rd title at DP World Tour level alongside another 4 top-10 finishes, and there have been signs of late that another big run of results could be on the cards.
19th at the Andalucia Masters followed a consistent if unspectacular run of results following his early-season burst, before he came within a whisker of adding a 4th title to his collection when losing out to Sami Valimaki at the Qatar Masters a little over a fortnight ago. Disappointment for Campillo undoubtedly, however further evidence that he’s comfortable in the Middle East having previously won in Qatar 3 years ago.
12th last week at the Nedbank was a personal best around that lengthy Gary Player design and his putting stats really stood out, having done most of the damage in his previous two outings with his long game. 2nd for SG Putting at Sun City complimented his 2nd for SG Approach and 5th for SG Tee to Green rankings in Doha, and if he can somehow stitch it all together this week in Dubai he could upset the odds.
Two top-10 finishes here at the Earth Course from five attempts suggests an aptitude for the task at hand, and with his game in great shape perhaps he can record another personal best here this week and cement his PGA Tour card for next season into the bargain. RESULT: T43
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Dan Bradbury 1pt EW 175/1 (5EW, 1/4) with BetVictor
Finally for 2023 I’m going to keep faith with Dan Bradbury who was our soul beacon of light last week at Sun City.
The negative with Dan is that he’s making his Earth Course debut this week against the cream of the 2023 DP World Tour crop, however he undoubtedly deserves his place here in the Dubai finale. Nicolai Hojgaard finished in tied 4th in 2021 on his first look at this layout and Viktor Hovland, Laurie Canter and Sami Valimaki all finished top 6 on debut the year before, so simply dismissing first-timers here as backable each-way shots may be a little hasty.
5th last week on Nedbank debut was a strong effort and the strong iron-play that got him into that position at Sun City could equally serve him well here in Dubai. 9th for SG Off the Tee, 21st for SG Approach and 18th for SG Tee to Green are season-long stats that don’t lie with just one event to go, and he could well take to this course as impressively as he did to last week’s task.
The 24 year-old’s breakthrough victory at the Joburg Open last November is undoubtedly his career highlight to date, however it’s interesting that he’s found form once again as the autumn has approached with 6th at the Spanish Open and 13th at the Andalucia Masters before last week’s effort, and with the putter also seemingly warming up of late he could well sneak a place here this week. RESULT: 17th
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