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. A change of plan next year for the European Tour may well be in order given the apathy that we’ve seen towards these final events over the past fortnight, with many of those with a theoretical chance of overturning Francesco Molinari’s lead choosing to miss either the Turkish Airlines Open, Nedbank Golf Challenge or both, which leaves us with a 2-horse race between the Open Champion and last year’s Race To Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood.
Justin Rose’s non-attendance here this week from 3rd place in the rankings underlines for me that change needs to happen if these critical events in the European Tour calendar are going to capture the imagination of the world’s elite moving forwards. With all that said, we’re still presented with an excellent tournament in its own right though with Rory McIlroy shading favouritism over Sergio Garcia, followed by the likes of defending champion Jon Rahm, Fleetwood, WGC HSBC Champions winner Xander Shauffele and Tyrrell Hatton who all rate 16/1 or shorter with the bookmakers.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford rounds off the season with his RSM Classic preview.
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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. The fairways are quite wide and, with dry weather in the run-up to this week, the course will be playing hard and fast. Greens are large, undulating Bermudagrass which measure 12’6″ on the stimp 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. 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. Dry, warm and sunny conditions will greet the players this week in Dubai with temperatures reaching the low-90s Fahrenheit each day and afternoon breezes picking up to around 10-15 mph.
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:
- 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. Jon Rahm restored some order last year by ranking 4th for distance and in general I’d err on the side of longer players here. 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 6 winners here and we see that birdie-making and bogey avoidance is pretty important:
- 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 perfect 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. 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: 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 (back to 2010): Apart from the early renewals and Jon Rahm’s debut success 12 months ago, winners here generally had some decent course form prior to victory:
- 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 massive 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) and Rahm (12/1) 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, 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 earlier this year 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 and the cream is really quite likely to rise to the top over the course of the 4 days.
My selections are as follows: