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.
My final selections are as follows:
Matthew Fitzpatrick 2pts EW 25/1 with *For the latest bet365 Opening Account Offer details see below, use bonus code SPORT100
Despite the clear strength at the top of the market with Bryson DeChambeau heading the list, I’m starting my team a little further down the pecking order this week with Matthew Fitzpatrick. DeChambeau hasn’t finished better than 13th in a regular European Tour event on his occasional forays this side of the Atlantic and whilst that will undoubtedly change at some point in time, I can’t take him at the price on offer. Tommy Fleetwood’s putter was stone cold last week in Abu Dhabi and Louis Oosthuizen blew an outstanding chance with a dismal 3rd round effort last Friday; although either could up their game here – as could the likes of Sergio, Stenson and Hatton who follow them in the market – personally I prefer the chances of Sheffield’s finest who was out here at the Emirates practicing for a few days before heading off to Singapore last week.
2018 was a solid year for Matt who maintained his OWGR top-50 position throughout the 12 months courtesy of a 3rd place finish in Abu Dhabi, 8th at Wentworth and 7th in Denmark before successfully defending his title at Crans Sur Sierre. 2nd in Hong Kong, where the 24 year-old ranked 8th for putting, was an impressive way to finish the year and he picked up where he left off last week in Singapore where a couple of late bogeys finally put paid to his challenge as he finished 4th. His long game looked on point statistically last week, hitting 80.6% of greens in regulation (6th in the field) and 73.2% of fairways (13th) and that will undoubtedly breed some confidence as he embarks on what could be a huge year as he continues to mature as a golfer.
Having finished 5th here in 2017 after he won the DP World Tour Championship at the Earth Course the autumn before, Fitzpatrick was well-fancied to go well 12 months ago, especially arriving here fresh from that aforementioned 3rd place finish in Abu Dhabi – naturally he missed the cut. What we’re starting to see as Matt progresses through his career though is more consistency and continuity of form – 7th then 1st last year in Denmark then Switzerland is a case in point – and a similar result is achievable this week in my view while his game’s in good shape, particularly if he can reproduce some of the putting performances that we saw at the latter end of last year. RESULT: T16
Ian Poulter 1.5pts EW 35/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet** for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Despite a hellish journey from Hawaii to Abu Dhabi to make last week’s event, there was much to admire about Ian Poulter’s game last week, despite an ugly triple bogey on the 16th hole on Saturday’s final round. In truth his chance had gone by that point, however with a journey that spanned 14 time zones to make the start of the event on Wednesday – resulting in no practice rounds and a body racked with jet-lag – for the Englishman to put himself in with a chance to win the event is testament to how well he’s playing right now.
Last year’s win at the Houston Open on the PGA Tour marked Poulter’s first victory since the 2012 season and a jump back into the OWGR top 50 after dropping outside the top 200 at the start of 2017, however he doesn’t appear to be taking his foot off the gas in terms of both commitments and his quality of game since that win. 7th at The Heritage, 11th at The Players, 8th at the Italian Open, 10th at Firestone and 10th at the CJ Cup were all creditable performances before he finally downed tools for the year, however that Houston success meant that he had an additional commitment in Hawaii to start the season and after taking in the Sony Open while in the vicinity, it’s been a busy start to the season for the 43 year-old. Poulter led the field for GIR at Kapalua with a massive 87.5%, which was the first hint that he was playing some nice golf. 33rd at the Sony was solid if unspectacular, however it was last week’s 6th place finish in Abu Dhabi – where his putter was in nice shape, especially from medium range – that really caught the eye.
Of course, a week further down the line the 12-time European Tour winner will have been able to get over the jet-lag completely by the time he tees it up on Thursday this week and I suspect he’ll keep his form progressing in a part of the world that he’s performed well in in the past. 15th here in 2017 and 6th last year only tell half of the story as he’s also finished runner-up twice at the DP World Tour Championship over the years on the longer Earth Course. With his game in good shape and his body having adjusted to the time zone now, I’m expecting a big week from Poulter here. RESULT: T3
Jason Scrivener 1pt EW 90/1 with £40 welcome bonus*** for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 EW, 1/5 odds)
David Lipsky 1pt EW 100/1 with £40 welcome bonus*** for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply (6 EW, 1/5 odds)
Scott Hend 0.5pt EW 200/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply**** (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
A trio of longer prices to complete this week’s team. First up I’m sticking with Jason Scrivener who showed enough form overall in Abu Dhabi to warrant another investment this week given that he finished 6th here last year, topping Driving Accuracy stats into the bargain, which suggests that this layout suits his eye from off the tee. 16th last week was the Australian’s best effort around those parts from 3 attempts, despite a lacklustre opening round of 72 in perfect conditions and a third round of 74. Rounds of 65 and 68 either side of that offers some significant encouragement though, as does a Driving Accuracy rank of 1st, GIR rank of 10th and Putting Average of 8th on the week. As I mentioned last week, the 29 year-old finally got his breakthrough professional victory at the NSW Open on the Australasian Tour at the end of 2017, beating the highly-rated Lucas Herbert by a clear 6 strokes, before pushing on with a career-best season on the European Tour in 2018 where he eventually finished 68th in the Race To Dubai, including a best finish of 6th here at the Dubai Desert Classic. 3rd in Hong Kong and 6th at the Australian PGA Championship before Christmas offer more encouragement and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him improve on last week’s effort here a week later. RESULT: T7
The odds on offer for David Lipsky are a little on the disrespectful side in my view given that he produced a personal-best 6th place finish here 12 months ago at the Emirates. Combine that with the fact that the American won his second European Tour title in South Africa at the end of December in fine style and he should be a few places further up the bookmaker’s lists in my view. 16th last week in Abu Dhabi shook off the rust and offers more encouragement given that he’d missed the cut there on three of his previous 4 attempts. A shorter layout with a classical feel should be far more up the 30 year-old’s alley as his previous European Tour success at Crans-Sur-Sierre suggests, and it’s worth noting that Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn have all won both events over the years to suggest there’s some notable correlation despite the obvious geographic and aesthetic differences. Bermuda putting surfaces are no problem for Lipsky – he ranked 4th for putting average the last time he played the Earth Course on similar composition greens in 2017 – and his runner-up finish at the Championship at Laguna National, where he first really came to the attention of European Tour observers, is also of note given its Classical style and Bermudagrass greens. RESULT: MC
Finally I’m taking a punt on Australia’s Scott Hend who’s also got some notable form at Crans if we’re going to continue to follow that theme again. Twice the 45 year-old has lost out in a play-off in the Swiss Alps – firstly to Alex Noren in 2016, then to Matt Fitzpatrick a year later – and if even a tenuous form line can be drawn between those two events then Hend has to be given more than a cursory look here. Despite his well-known prowess from off the tee, Scott also counts the Hong Kong Open at the classical-style course at Fanling as one of his two European Tour successes and clearly he finds a way to hit a lot of greens on these tests that require a little more thought, however when power is required to reach the scoreable holes he’s also got that in abundance. 8th here in 2016, where he hit over 80% of greens in regulation, is Scott’s best attempt at this title, however finishes of 42nd and 37th on his last two attempts mask two strong putting performances which could prove critical as he looks to build on last week’s 27th place finish in Abu Dhabi. An overnight bath in Coke for Hend’s putter seemingly had the desired effect in Abu Dhabi and whether that’s purely psychological or otherwise, anything that potentially swings a player’s performance in a game where the margins are so fine is worth some consideration. Of more tangible note, Hend has been hitting a good proportion of greens of late and 9th in Hong Kong before Christmas was his first top-10 finish for the best part of 6 months. RESULT: T48
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