Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Dubai Desert Classic Tips 2024

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Although Rasmus Hojgaard and Adrian Otaegui threatened at times to get into the mix last week at the Dubai Invitational, in the end neither could muster the kind of performance that would have kept them in touch with the leaders and make proceedings a little more interesting from a betting perspective. Well done to those of you who risked Tommy Fleetwood at a short price, despite having jetted straight in from Hawaii, who took advantage of some slips by Rory McIlroy to take the inaugural title.

With the Abu Dhabi Championship to come much later in the year, this week’s Dubai Desert Classic is the headline event of the Middle East Swing and as the first Rolex Series event of the year it’s managed to attract an excellent field with 4 of the world’s top 15 in attendance, namely Rory McIlroy, Open Champion Brian Harman, last week’s winner Tommy Fleetwood, and the ever entertaining Tyrrell Hatton.

With the field size a little more than double that of last week at 126 in total, odds in general are a little more generous this week although favourite Rory McIlroy is still in the win-only bracket at a best-priced 7/2 at the time of writing as he seeks his fourth Dubai Desert Classic title. Tyrrell and Tommy hover around the 10/1 mark, give or take, with Brian Harman (18/1), Cameron Young (20/1) and Joaquin Niemann (20/1) interesting additions to the field.

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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 every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, 6,200-strong private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Emirates GC. Designer: Litten, 1998; Course Type: Desert; Par: 72; Length: 7,428 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 at Dubai Creek, the track here at the Emirates Golf Club is a little longer with a number of dog-leg holes which, when combined with wind which is quite often a factor, creates somewhat of a strategic test.

History has shown that hitting greens is the key statistic at the 7,428 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 greens themselves were rebuilt ahead of the 2022 event, adding on average 1/3 to the size of each putting surface. As ever, the newly laid turf was firmer than usual back then and has continued to settle down a little since.

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 1st, 3rd and 16th holes were extended prior to the 2021 event, adding 67 yards to the total length of the course.

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 | SG Stats.

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

Winners & Prices. 2023: Rory McIlroy, 16/5; 2022: Viktor Hovland, 10/1; 2021: Paul Casey, 25/1; 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 Tour since 2010 click here.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Dubai is here.

A repeat performance of last week at Dubai Creek is expected with relatively light winds in the main, sunshine and temperatures up to the mid 70s Fahrenheit.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the past 13 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2023: Rory McIlroy (-19). 306 yards (4th), 39.3% fairways (82nd), 72.2% greens in regulation (24th), 75.0% scrambling (11th), 1.62 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2022: Viktor Hovland (-12). 305 yards (13th), 62.5% fairways (3rd), 69.4% greens in regulation (10th), 63.6% scrambling (34th), 1.71 putts per GIR (18th).
  • 2021: Paul Casey (-17). 301 yards (23rd), 53.6% fairways (17th), 75.0% greens in regulation (4th), 66.7% scrambling (16th), 1.73 putts per GIR (22nd).
  • 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).

One element that stands out from a number of those players above is that many of them had 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 HaoTong Li’s win in 2018 and Viktor Hovland’s success in 2022 aside, the case is pretty compelling.

Lucas Herbert is a 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 in 2020. Similarly, 2021 winner Paul Casey had previous GIR rankings of 2nd, 4th, 5th and 9th and no worse than 24th in the field from 7 previous starts.

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 5 years ago as it was his putter which did the damage. Likewise Viktor Hovland’s 57% GIR was only good enough for 42nd in the field, however that’s a sample of 1 so perhaps not entirely representative. As ever, there’s always scope for an exception to the rule in this game.

Strokes Gained: From a Strokes Gained perspective, we have 5 years’ worth of results from the Emirates:

  • 2023: Rory McIlroy: T: 2nd; A: 13th; T2G: 4th; ATG: 37th; P: 8th
  • 2022: Viktor Hovland: T: 2nd; A: 3rd; T2G: 3rd; ATG: 65th; P: 14th
  • 2021: Paul Casey. T: 6th; A: 2nd; T2G: 1st; ATG: 7th; P: 41st
  • 2020: Lucas Herbert. T: 9th; A: 54th; T2G: 7th; ATG: 3rd; P: 14th
  • 2019: Bryson DeChambeau. T: 4th; A: 12th; T2G: 3rd; ATG: 32nd; P: 5th

Key: T: SG Off the Tee; A; SG Approach; T2G: SG Tee to Green; ATG: SG Around the Green; P: SG Putting.

Some consistency from all 5 winners from the Strokes Gained era with both Off the Tee and Tee to Green field rankings right up there with the best on the week.

For a full Strokes Gained summary for the field over the same 5 years click here.

Incoming Form: Each of the last 13 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 Rory McIlroy was making his 2023 debut here and converted his first start of the calendar year in his career into the bargain. Prior to that he’d finished 4th at the Earth Course, having won the CJ Cup and at East Lake before that and was clearly in great form:

  • 2023: Rory McIlroy: 1/5/19/3/MC/8/1/2/4/4/1/4
  • 2022: Viktor Hovland: 14/36/43/17/4/49/44/18/1/1/30/4
  • 2021: Paul Casey: MC/67/2/31/49/16/17/MC/69/35/38/8
  • 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

Event Form. Some semblance of course form looks like a positive factor here at the Emirates, with last year’s winner Rory McIlroy adding to a long list of winners here who’d previously recorded a top-25 finish around these parts. Going back to 2005, the only exceptions to the rule are Rory himself in 2009 and Haotong Li in 2018:

  • 2023: Rory McIlroy: MC/52/MC/1/6/10/5/9/1/6/2/3
  • 2022: Viktor Hovland: 23
  • 2021: Paul Casey: 12/16/20/4/11/37/9
  • 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

General experience of the Emirates looks positive too: there are no debutant winners in that list above and you need to go all the way back to Richard Green in 1997 before you’ll find a first-timer walking away with the trophy here. The occasional debutant has placed here in recent years – Patrick Reed (2nd) and Julien Brun (5th) last year for instance – however they are the exception rather than the rule.

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 Haotong 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 multiple times.

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.

A bit of breeze in 2022, coupled with firm greens following the renovation work to the putting surfaces, contributed to a 12-under winning total as scoring proved to be a little tougher than the previous year. Softer conditions last year allowed Rory McIlroy to reach 19-under as he came out on top of his tussle with Patrick Reed. Light winds but firmer conditions this year might see somewhere between those two extremes being sufficient to take this year’s trophy.

My final Dubai Desert Classic tips are as follows:

Adrian Meronk 2pts EW 25/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Having overcome Patrick Reed here last year as the 7/2 favourite, the bookies are once again taking absolutely no chances with Rory McIlroy as he looks to win a fourth Dubai Desert Classic title. Priced in the same bracket once again here this year it will undoubtedly take a lot to stop the Northern Irishman, however last week’s evidence is that he can be beaten.

Of course one could argue with some conviction that with a little more luck, or a solitary mistake less, he would have proven victorious last week. Save for a quadruple bogey on Friday, a three-putt from inside 3 feet on the back 9 on Sunday, and finding the water on the 72nd hole, he would have been virtually unbeatable. Yet these mistakes do offer those of us punters who can’t stomach the price, as well as the rest of the field, some hope.

Last year’s event played into the Northern Irishman’s hands with softer conditions his forte. We saw last week though at nearby Dubai Creek that the area is a little firmer and faster 12 months on, and that levels the playing field just enough in my view to take a chance on some players a little further down the betting.

Tyrrell Hatton has a superb Rolex Series record yet hasn’t won any event on Tour for nigh on 3 years now and continues to cut a comedic figure at times with his antics on the course; Tommy Fleetwood on the other hand is attempting to win back-to-back, a feat he’s yet to achieve as a professional, albeit he has come close. At around the 10/1 mark there’s very little juice in either prices for my liking.

Harman, Young and Niemann are all making their debuts here this week which is enough to put me off at the prices, which leads me to Adrian Meronk who’s backable each-way on a course that he finished 4th on 2 years ago.

Much has been said and written about the Pole missing out on Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team in the autumn, but to his great credit Adrian has let his game do the talking, winning the Andalucia Masters with the dust from Rome having barely settled and comfortably securing his place on the PGA Tour courtesy of his season-long effort on the Race to Dubai rankings.

That victory in Spain was the 30 year-old’s 4th win on Tour in a little over 15 months, singling him out as one of the most successful players on the planet over that period of time and elevating him inside the OWGR top 50 for year end, which opens many a door.

Strokes Gained Off the Tee is Meronk’s biggest weapon and one which is ideal for this week’s test – indeed he ranked 3rd on that count for the full 2022/23 season, behind only Billy Horschel and Rory McIlroy who recorded far fewer rounds for their respective statistics. 18th for SG Approach, 4th for SG Tee to Green and 7th for GIR are also positive pointers for the Emirates and improving on his aforementioned debut 4th place finish the year before last is likely to come sooner rather than later in my view.

10th last week at Dubai Creek shook the rust off after a relatively slow start on Thursday with an opening round of 70. 2nd for SG Off the Tee and 6th for SG Tee to Green for the week are an ideal platform to come into this week’s task, which suits a little better. RESULT: 2nd

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Thorbjorn Olesen 2pts EW 33/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Another player who had an excellent 2022/23 campaign and will be plying his trade State-side in 2024 is Thorbjorn Olesen.

Based out in the UAE now it clearly made sense for the 34 year-old to start his 2024 campaign close to his new home having spent the festive period here with his family, however perhaps he can secure himself another DP World Tour title before heading off across the Atlantic.

Having closed 2023 with three top-9 finishes from his final four events, Olesen understandably downed tools for the best part of 2 months so was pleasantly surprised with the state of his game last week at Dubai Creek, in particular with the putter which should instil confidence in the rest of his game. 8th overall was fuelled in the main by ranking 4th for SG Putting on the week, however if he can marry that up to the kind of long game performances we saw before Christmas then he could be very dangerous here this week.

15th, 8th and 1st for SG Off the Tee for those three efforts I mentioned at the Andalucia Masters, Qatar Masters and Nedbank were complimented by rankings of 8th, 7th and 2nd for SG Tee to Green over those same events, with the putter neutral at best. If last week’s evidence is anything to go by then he could well improve on that overall effort at Dubai Creek here this week.

Already a Rolex Series event winner at the 2018 Italian Open, 4 top-8 finishes from 10 starts here at the Emirates tells us all we need to know about his liking for the course, and further positive form in Abu Dhabi (8th in 2012; 2nd in 2013) completes the argument for supporting him in my view. RESULT: T21

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Ewen Ferguson 1pt EW 70/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Given the clear and obvious chance that Rory McIlroy may render all of our bets as chasing place money only, I’m keeping it very tight this week with a team of just 3. To complete my selections, of the eye-catchers statistically last week at Dubai Creek Ewen Ferguson deserves some support here just down the road at the Emirates, and I’ll back him accordingly.

Twice a winner on Tour in 2022, and very nearly three times if he hadn’t run into the white-hot putter of Oliver Wilson at the Made In Himmerland, 2023 wasn’t as productive for the Scot from a trophy perspective. However, top-4 finishes at the SDC Championship, Jonsson Workwear Open and British Masters, backed up by top 10s at the Dutch, French and Spanish Opens, were more than enough to earn him a start at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, which again produced a top 10 finish.

9th, 5th, 10th, 7th and 1st for SG Approach from the Spanish Open through to the Earth Course was complimented by 26th, 14th, 9th, 11th and 2nd for SG Tee to Green over the same stretch, with the metrics falling out of his effort at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in particular peaking my interest for this week’s task. 4th for GIR that week in top-class company is also impressive, which leads me on to last week’s effort nicely.

11th to open his 2024 campaign was solid for the 27 year-old, with four round in the 60s likely to boost his confidence as he seeks out his next victory at this level. 5th for Driving Accuracy and 4th for GIR in old money translated to 2nd for SG Approach and 10th for SG Tee to Green as he heads back for a second look at The Emirates, having finished 28th here last year on debut.

Ferguson’s breakthrough victory came at the Qatar Masters just under 2 years ago so he clearly feels comfortable in the Middle East, and I see no reason for him not to put in a strong performance here this week. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 15:50GMT 15.1.24 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.