Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Dubai Desert Classic Tips 2021

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Tyrrell Hatton grabbed yet another Rolex Series title last week in Abu Dhabi – his fourth in total – and catapulted himself inside the World’s top 5 for the first time in his career into the bargain. Each of the Englishman’s last 4 European Tour wins have been at that level and he’s quickly established himself as the favourite to win this year’s Race to Dubai as a result of his most recent success.

3-over through 9 to start Tommy Fleetwood’s effort last week and the same score to finish his final 9 holes was never going to be good enough for our headline selection and his late dropped shots halved our each way returns, so we head to Dubai this week hoping for something a little better come Sunday afternoon.

This week’s field has understandably taken a slight step backwards given the prize fund has more than halved, however we’ve still got a strong renewal of the well-established Dubai Desert Classic on our hands with last week’s victor heading the betting at 15/2 from Fleetwood (11/1) and US PGA Champion Collin Morikawa (12/1) – the latter’s inclusion in the field is a real coup for the event given that many of the PGA Tour raiders are opting for next week’s Saudi International instead.

As well as the leading trio already mentioned, there’s also the likes of Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia 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.

Before we go into more detail and my final Dubai Desert Classic tips, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the golfing year kicks off. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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Emirates GC. Designer: Litten, 1998; Course Type: Desert; Par: 72; Length: 7,353 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 7,353 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. The par-4 9th hole was extended by 25 yard last years to make it tougher, measuring 488 yards on the card again for this year.

dubai desert classic tips

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Dubai Desert Classic 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 Current/Event Form.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2020: Lucas Herbert, 200/1; 2019: Bryson DeChambeau, 10/1; 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.

For a summary of winners’ odds on the European Tour since 2010 click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Dubai is here. The tournament should enjoy warm (high-70s) and dry conditions throughout the 4 days. Winds will be generally light to moderate throughout with afternoon breezes nudging 10-15mph.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the past 11 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2020: Lucas Herbert (-9). 316 yards (9th), 42.9% fairways (37th), 66.7% greens in regulation (5th), 70.8% scrambling (4th), 1.73 putts per GIR (21st).
  • 2019: Bryson DeChambeau (-24). 298 yards (26th), 57.1% fairways (22nd), 80.6% greens in regulation (3rd), 57.1% scrambling (58th), 1.57 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 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).

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. Sadly no performance stats were recorded for Bryson DeChambeau’s debut effort in 2016 where he finished 18th, however prior to HaoTong Li’s win in 2018 the case was pretty compelling.

Lucas Herbert was another case in point, having hit 75% GIR on his debut here in 2019, ranking 13th in the field on that count, before ranking 5th for the same metric on his way to victory last year.

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 3 years ago as it was his putter which did the damage. As ever, there’s always scope for an exception to the rule in this game.

Incoming Form: Each of the last 11 winners had recorded at least one top-10 finish in their previous 9 performances, so some recent form seems a fair pointer.

Last year’s winner Lucas Herbert was slightly more difficult to spot – hence his 200/1 price point – with 3-event form of MC/65/67. Prior to that though, 8th at Crans Sur Sierre and 14th at Le Golf National were solid efforts and he’d led the Australian PGA Championship after the first round on his penultimate start, plus he sat 12th heading into the weekend the week before in Abu Dhabi before fading:

  • 2020: Lucas Herbert: 55/62/MC/8/22/MC/MC/34/14/MC/64/67
  • 2019: Bryson DeChambeau: 51/13/30/MC/1/1/19/19/1/12/7/10
  • 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. Some semblance of course form looks like a positive factor here at the Emirates with last year’s winner Lucas Herbert joining a long list of winners here who’d previously recorded a top-20 finish around these parts. Going back to 2005, the only exceptions to the rule are Rory McIlroy in 2009 and Haotong Li in 2018:

  • 2020: Lucas Herbert: 7
  • 2019: Bryson DeChambeau: 18
  • 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.

Last year’s winning total of 9-under was a combination of thicker rough and stronger winds than recent renewals, to emphasise that the course can present more of a challenge when conditions allow. The breeze picks up each afternoon around these parts, although it’s not expected to be as strong as last year so I’d expect players to find lower scores a little easier to come by this year and the emphasis for me will still be on maximising and taking opportunities through high GIR and a strong enough putting performance on the week.

My final Dubai Desert Classic tips are as follows:

Christiaan Bezuidenhout 2pts EW 25/1 (5EW, 1/4) with bet365

The fact that Christiaan Bezuidenhout features in the top half-dozen players in the betting this week tells you all you need to know about the way that he’s playing at present, and there’s every reason to think that he’s hungry for more success having won twice over his last 4 starts and impressing massively.

Of course to win this he’s going to have to overcome some serious opposition from the likes of Hatton, Fleetwood and Morikawa. Hatton has won back-to-back in the past and could well repeat that feat if he can get himself up for this week immediately after banking another hefty cheque, whereas Fleetwood could bounce back having recovered from a poor start last week in Abu Dhabi to contend before fading again. Realistically it’s impossible to rule either out, however last week’s Rolex Series event would have been the primary target for that pair and I wonder if either will get straight back in the saddle contention-wise.

Morikawa presents a different question given he finished 10th at the Earth Course on debut before Christmas and has been pounding greens in Hawaii on his return to PGA Tour action, I just wonder if the Emirates with its almost classical routing needs a bit of experience before it can be mastered. That said, if one of the debutants is going to triumph then the 23 year-old is undoubtedly the prime suspect.

Back to Bezuidenhout then and the more we’ve seen more from him, the more we’re learning about what makes him tick. His breakthrough win on the European Tour came at the classical, claustrophobic Valderrama in June 2019 where an incredible performance on and around the greens got him over the line by a massive 6 strokes. You could be excused for pigeon-holing him at that point as a tough course specialist, yet last February he shot 25-under to take the Dimension Data Pro-Am on the Sunshine Tour.

Late 2020 wins at altitude at the South African Open and on Bermuda greens at the Alfred Dunhill Championship where his long game excelled on both occasions also muddies the waters in terms of trying to pinpoint his true strengths. I’m increasingly of the opinion that he’s an excellent, versatile all-round player who can both strike the ball beautifully as well as scramble and putt up there with some of the very best on Tour, and to that end we’re going to see plenty more of him at the top end of leaderboards in the months and years to come.

2nd in Qatar in 2019 and 2nd here at the Emirates last year, losing out to Lucas Herbert’s birdie at the first extra hole, adds desert form to the list and he hardly disgraced himself by finishing 14th at the Earth Course before Christmas and 12th last week in Abu Dhabi. 3rd for SG Approach last week and 4th for SG Tee to Green are strong stats heading here, particularly as he ranked 1st for SG Around the Green and 5th for SG Putting this week last year. He has an excellent chance in my view. RESULT: T22

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Sergio Garcia 2pts EW 28/1 (6EW, 1/5) with BetVictor

In interviews over the years, I’ve noted many a player remark about the need for experience of this track, a fact that’s evident from the event form stats in my preamble. Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, Stephen Gallacher and Rory McIlroy are all multiple winners of this event since it began in 1989 and to that end I’m supporting two previous winners here this week.

Firstly, I’m backing Sergio Garcia who tasted success here in 2017 and came close again 2 years later, ultimately finishing in a tie for 3rd behind runaway leader Bryson DeChambeau.

In terms of raw credentials, Garcia ticks every box: he has the course form and current form that ties many of the previous winners here together, and 3 of his 11 visits to this track have produced field-leading GIR performances which again ties in with those who’ve tasted success here, including him of course.

His most recent win – his 11th on the PGA Tour, at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October – came at an important time as he was drifting out of the OWGR top-50; with that taken care of he now has one single focus for the next 9 months and that’s to ensure that he qualifies for his 10th Ryder Cup.

Although this will be the 41 year-old’s first outing on the European Tour this season, he’s already shaken the rust off with an 11th place finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and 47th at the Sony Open a week later. 2nd for SG Off the Tee and 4th for SG Tee to Green at Kapalua tells us all we need to know about the state of his long game at present and any kind of spark with the putter this week has got to put him in with a chance of seriously contending here. RESULT: T6

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Danny Willett 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

The other former Dubai Desert Classic champion that I fancy could go well this week is Danny Willett. That success here in 2016 was the precursor to his most celebrated moment a couple of months later when he captured the Green Jacket at Augusta National, and after a period in the post-Major doldrums there’s enough to suggest that he may be capable of more elite-level success.

Of course to compete at the Majors and WGCs, a player first needs to qualify for them and, at 68th in the World Rankings, the Sheffield man’s first objective is to move inside the top 50 and to that end an event like this has got to be a huge target. Wins at the DP World Tour Championship and BMW PGA Championship since that success at Augusta have seen him flit in and out of the top 50, however at present he’s outside looking in and that’s a problem, particularly in Ryder Cup year and with entries to just the Masters and Open Championship already secured.

Those impressive wins aside, the main issue with the 33 year-old has been his consistency with too many missed cuts on his record, however perhaps a new year will bring a new focus and last week’s 16th place in Abu Dhabi is encouraging given that was his best effort around those parts for 12 years. A misbehaving driver was the main reason he wasn’t closer to the lead at the end last week, however he improved on that count on the final day and was 6-under through 10 on his final day before throttling down as the event concluded.

9th heading into Sunday at the Earth Course on his start prior to that also suggests that his game isn’t far away and he’ll be buoyed to see some putts dropping last week in particular.

Danny’s talked in the past about familiarity and feeling comfortable on a course and in certain surroundings for his best golf to flow, so a return to the scene of one of his previous successes could spark something special. RESULT: T44

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David Lipsky 1pt EW 90/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

It was interesting to see the name David Lipsky so prominent on the leaderboard last week in Abu Dhabi on a track that’s stretching for a player who’s middling at best in terms of distance from off the tee. 5th overall last week was fuelled by a hot putter predominantly, ranking 3rd for putting average on last week’s Bermuda greens, however there were some strong enough performances at the latter end of last year with his irons to suggest that he can compete here this week.

6th at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship featured his best GIR performance for over 3 years at 84.7% in a field full of potential PGA Tour players of the future, and that followed some earlier strong form at the same level, winning the TPC San Antonio Challenge by 4 strokes in July before finishing runner-up at the Portland Open a month later.

This week’s Dubai Desert Classic is a step above that level, granted, however the American does have previous at European Tour level, having won both the Omega European Masters at Crans sur Sierre in 2014 as well as the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek at the end of 2018. That latter victory came on the re-laid Bermuda greens on the edge of Kruger National Park and from what we’ve seen of him this side of the Atlantic, he’s more than comfortable on this week’s putting surfaces.

6 attempts here at the Dubai Desert Classic have produced 5 paid weekends for the 32 year-old and a best finish of 6th in 2018, however it was probably last year’s 11th place finish that gives the best indication that he can go well here this week as he fully got to grips with the long-game demands of this layout, ranking 10th for Driving accuracy and 6th for GIR. Repeat that while coupling it with last week’s putting display and he’ll go very close to winning this title. RESULT: T35

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Stephen Gallacher 0.5pt EW 150/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Finally I’m taking a small, speculative punt on 2-time Emirates winner Stephen Gallacher who showed with his Indian Open win in 2019 that he’s not quite ready to call time on his playing career just yet.

In truth you’d have needed a crystal ball to have predicted that the 46 year-old was about to add his 4th European Tour title to his CV as he teed it up on the first hole at the DLF Golf & Country Club in New Delhi nearly 2 years ago, arriving on the back of 4 straight missed cuts. With son Jack on the bag though the Scot proved too good for the rest of the field as he secured his first win for 5 years.

Nearly 2 years on and with Jack developing further as a professional Caddie, there are small signs of a positive underlying game as Gallacher returns to the scene of his back-to-back victories in this event in 2013 and 2014. Outside of those efforts, the 2014 Ryder Cup player also has finishes here of 4th on debut in 2000 as well as 4 further top-10 finishes that flank his two successes.

30th at the Golf In Dubai Championship before the festive break and 16th last week in Abu Dhabi, where he sat 6th heading into weekend, are positive enough outings and with a slight reduction in field quality this week coupled with the positive vibes from returning to his most prolific track, perhaps another contending performance is possible here this week.

A focus on fitness and increasing club speed of late may be starting to show through in his results and some impressive Strokes Gained Around The Green figures from his past 2 starts – ranking 4th on that count both times – suggests that his short game is in good order this week to compliment his normally dependable long game. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 16:45GMT 25.1.21 but naturally subject to fluctuation,