It was ultimately a disappointing week in Abu Dhabi with headline selection Louis Oosthuizen failing to convert an excellent position going into the final two days, however it was of some comfort that the South African rallied over the final 18 holes to secure us a full each-way payout at least. Richard Sterne proved to the world once again just how hard it is for golfers to get over the line as he relinquished a 4-shot lead to allow Shane Lowry, who’d also held a healthy lead prior to that, to rally and win his 3rd regular European Tour event and his 4th overall when you include his WGC success at Akron in 2015.
With the Abu Dhabi Championship taking centre stage last week in its new lofty position as a Rolex Series event, this week’s field has understandably taken a slight step backwards. That said, the incredibly talented American Bryson Dechambeau headlines here this week and rates the bookies’ favourite at around the 10/1 mark at the time of writing. With the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson also in attendance, as well as a strong contingent from the upper-end of the European Tour, this event still has some quality about it and we should expect some serious entertainment over the 4 days.
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Emirates GC. Designer: Litten, 1998; Course Type: Desert; Par: 72; Length: 7,328 yards; Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Bermuda/Rye; Rough: Bermuda/Rye; Greens: Bermuda (TifEagle) 12’6″ on the stimp.
Course Overview. The Majlis Course is our venue once again for this year’s Dubai Desert Classic. As you’d expect with a desert course, this is a fairly exposed layout – however in contrast to last week’s course in Abu Dhabi, the track here at the Emirates Golf Club is shorter with a number of dog-leg holes which, when combined with wind which is quite often a factor, creates a little bit more of a strategic test. History has shown that hitting greens is the key statistic at the 7,328 yard par-72 layout – once on board, the putting surfaces are pretty flat and reasonably speedy Bermuda measuring 12-13 on the stimpmeter and they can appeal to the less adept putters on Tour. The course is always presented in perfect condition and the greens are amongst the best on Tour. The back nine, whilst longer than the front nine, plays far easier with three mid-length par-5s in play, the short par-4 17th and the shortest of the par-3s at the 11th.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2018: Hao-tong Li, 110/1; 2017: Sergio Garcia, 20/1; 2016: Danny Willett, 40/1; 2015: Rory McIlroy 7/2; 2014: Stephen Gallacher, 45/1; 2013: Stephen Gallacher, 70/1; 2012: Rafael Cabrera-Bello, 125/1; 2011: Alvaro Quiros, 16/1; 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 66/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Dubai is here. The tournament should enjoy mild (high 70s) and dry conditions throughout the 4 days. Winds will be generally light and variable throughout with afternoon breezes nudging 10mph only.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 9 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2018: Hao-Tong Li (-23). 304 yards (18th), 50% fairways (45th), 65.3% greens in regulation (47th), 76% scrambling (13th), 1.49 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2017: Sergio Garcia (-19). 305 yards (4th), 69.6% fairways (4th), 81.9% greens in regulation (1st), 61.5% scrambling (15th), 1.70 putts per GIR (17th).
- 2016: Danny Willett (-19). 297 yards (10th), 55.4% fairways (38th), 77.8% greens in regulation (19th), 56.3% scrambling (35th), 1.54 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2015: Rory McIlroy (-22). 318 yards (1st), 44.6% fairways (67th), 83.3% greens in regulation (5th), 83.63% scrambling (3rd), 1.68 putts per GIR (14th).
- 2014: Stephen Gallacher (-16). 304 yards (5th), 50% fairways (55th), 76.4% greens in regulation (12th), 41.2% scrambling (65th), 1.66 putts per GIR (8th).
- 2013: Stephen Gallacher (-22). 298 yards (5th), 58.9% fairways (34th), 77.8% greens in regulation (12th), 75% scrambling (18th), 1.61 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2012: Rafa Cabrera-Bello (-18). 289 yards (17th), 64.3% fairways (32nd), 84.7% greens in regulation (1st), 72.7% scrambling (5th), 1.74 putts per GIR (25th).
- 2011: Alvaro Quiros (-11). 311 yards (1st), 48.2% fairways (49th), 72.2% greens in regulation (15th), 75% scrambling (2nd), 1.64 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez (-11). 286 yards (25th), 58.9% fairways (43rd), 75% greens in regulation (5th), 61.1% scrambling (20th), 1.69 putts per GIR (11th).
Prior to last year’s win by Hao-tong Li, one element that stands out from a number of those players above is that they’d previously produced a strong GIR performance here at the Emirates before winning. Although his attendance in this event has been patchy, Garcia had previously ranked 1st for GIR here in 2009; Willett had recorded 80.6% GIR on each of his previous 2 attempts before winning in 2016; McIlroy ranked 2nd, 5th ,6th and 4th for GIR here between 2009 and 2012; Gallacher ranked 1st for GIR the year before winning, plus had achieved GIR ranks of 9/6/8 before that; likewise both Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Miguel Angel Jimenez had ranked 1st for GIR on this layout prior to winning. Hao-Tong Li’s effort goes against that trend as he’d only played here once before, recording a GIR ranking of 56th in the field, however we wasn’t a great deal better than that when victorious 12 months ago as it was his putter which did the damage.
Incoming Form: Each of the last 9 winners had recorded at least one top-10 finish in their previous 8 performances so recent form was fairly strong. Rafael Cabrera-Bello’s form was probably the most tenuous of those listed, however he’d finished runner-up to Tom Lewis at the Portugal Masters before Christmas so was clearly in recent contending form.
- 2018: Hao-Tong Li: 3/MC/MC/25/62/48/50/66/4/13/19/MC
- 2017: Sergio Garcia: 1/5/5/5/MC/8/24/47/17/9/19/11
- 2016: Danny Willett: 1/17/54/3/52/46/11/3/28/4/4/54
- 2015: Rory McIlroy: 14/1/1/1/22/5/8/2/2/2/15/2
- 2014: Stephen Gallacher: MC/9/MC/3/53/63/25/34/38/29/8/28
- 2013: Stephen Gallacher: 24/40/6/34/MC/5/6/MC/4/16/MC/59
- 2012: Rafa Cabrera-Bello: 33/34/MC/30/2/41/19/72/15/26/48/35
- 2011: Alvaro Quiros: 39/MC/42/34/5/57/55/53/3/23/8/2
- 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez: 6/36/4/67/36/10/53/45/18/9/MC/66
Event Form. Prior to the wins from Hao-Tong Li and Sergio Garcia, each of the previous 7 winners had recorded at least a top-20 finish here the year before their victory. That trend halts with McIlroy’s win here in 2009 (previous event form of MC/52/MC), however prior to that Woods (08), Stenson (07) and Els (05) also had a top-20 finish or better the year before. Woods in 2006 hadn’t played 12 months earlier, however he’d finished 5th on his previous start in 2004.
- 2018: Hao-Tong Li: 39
- 2017: Sergio Garcia: 31/MC/19/11/20/17/MC
- 2016: Danny Willett: MC/48/33/MC/13/13
- 2015: Rory McIlroy: MC/52/MC/1/6/10/5/9
- 2014: Stephen Gallacher: 4/MC/38/34/51/22/44/44/MC/31/10/2/1
- 2013: Stephen Gallacher: 4/MC/38/34/51/22/44/44/MC/31/10/2
- 2012: Rafa Cabrera-Bello: MC/20
- 2011: Alvaro Quiros: 59/MC/13/6
- 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez: 2/37/MC/8/46/38/MC/2/4/10/54/7
When the breeze picks up around these parts it can accentuate the requirement for shot-shaping and almost links-like qualities to a player’s game, an assertion that’s backed up when you look at the list of winners which includes a number of Open Champions including Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson. Even Hao-Tong Li has some Open Championship form having finished 3rd there in 2017 courtesy of a sparkling final round. This event also appears to be quite specialised with Els, McIlroy, Woods and Stephen Gallacher all winning this twice.
Conditions here are likely to shape the type of winner we see from year to year. When there’s any kind of breeze around these parts, the emphasis shifts towards ball-striking first and foremost, however in more placid years where scoring has been lower, those with a hot putter have also contended as we saw first hand 12 months ago. With little in the way of breeze expected this week, I expect we’ll see some low scoring and anyone who’s in contention come Sunday will have had to have putted very well to get into that position.