Dubai Desert Classic
Mark James won the first Dubai Desert Classic in 1989 and as there was no event in 1991 so this will be the 27th edition. The Dubai Desert Classic is the third and final leg of the European Tour’s Desert Swing.
Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, UAE
Par 72, 7,301 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 – 71.57
The Majlis course, designed by Karl Litten and opened in 1988, with the exception of the 1999 and 2000 renewals, has hosted the event since its inception.
The greens are of average size and the whole course is laid to Bermuda grass.
The front nine ends with three tough holes in four – the 6th, 8th and 9th – which are all strong par fours, so with three par fives (the 10th, 13th and 18th), the back nine is the scoring nine. Water is in play on ten holes.
It’s a typically exposed desert track and like last week’s venue, Doha GC in Qatar, the wind is often a factor. If the early forecast transpires to be correct though, it’ll be blustery on Thursday but fairly benign after that.
Last Five Winners
2015 – Rory McIlroy -22
2014 – Stephen Gallacher -16
2013 – Stephen Gallacher -22
2012 – Rafael Cabrera-Bello -18
2011 – Alvaro Quiros -11
What Will it Take to Win The Dubai Desert Classic?
Mark O’Meara won this title in 2004 ranking just 96th for Driving Distance but being long off the tee has been key ever since. Nobody hit it further than the winner, Rory McIlroy, last year and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who ranked 25th in 2010, and Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who ranked 17th two years later, are the only two winners to rank outside the top-five for driving distance since O’Meara’s victory.
Hitting it long off the tee looks imperative now but you don’t have to hit it especially straight. Driving accuracy appears almost irrelevant with no winner ever ranking any better than 15th for fairways found and the last six winners have an average DA ranking of 44.6! Rory ranked just 68th 12 months ago, Stephen Gallacher ranked 52nd two years ago, and Alvaro Quiros ranked just 55th when he won in 2011.
Rory ranked fifth for Greens In Regulation last year and that’s pretty typical with eight of the last ten winners all ranking inside the top-five for GIR.
Is There an Angle In?
Playing in the Qatar Masters has been beneficial of late. The only winners of this event in the last ten years that didn’t play in Qatar the week before winning are Rory and Tiger Woods and that makes sense. Being acclimatised to the region and having had the experience of playing on an exposed desert track so recently has proven a big plus. Rory didn’t play in Qatar before winning last year but he did play Qatar when he won here for the first time in 2009. A high finish in Qatar isn’t imperative but an appearance in the event appears to be a plus.
Rory is the exception to the rule on another angle-in too, as he’s only ever played the Portugal Masters once – tied 30th in 2009 – but the three men to win the event before him all have a top-three finish in the Portuguese event…
Gallacher, the winner here in 2013 and 2014, has finished third at Oceânico Victoria, Cabrera-Bello, the 2012 winner, has finished second there and two DDC winners, Alvaro Quiros (2011) and Richard Green (1997), have both won there. England’s Lee Westwood, the 2009 winner of the Portugal Masters, has a great record here (really should have won the 2010 edition) and the inaugural winner in Portugal, journeyman pro Steve Webster, has finished inside the top-seven here twice in the last three years.
This isn’t an old event by any means but we’ve already had four players win the event at least twice and others have come very close to doubling up. Course form stands up really well here and I’d think carefully about backing someone that hasn’t shown something here previously.
Alvaro Quiros’ victory here in 2011 was remarkable for a number of reasons. He made three eagles, including a two on the par 4 2nd hole and a hole-in-one during the final round and he also made a pair of triple-bogeys, one on day one, at the par 5 10th, and one at the 8th on day four. But the most remarkable thing about his win was how far off the pace he had been before winning. He trailed by eight strokes after both round one and round two and that’s the furthest any winner has trailed by a country mile…
In the last 18 years, Mark O’Meara, who was six back after round one, is the only other winner to be further than three back after day one and up until two years ago, Robert-Jan Derksen, the shock 2003 champ, was the only other winner this century to be more than two back at halfway. Gallacher changed that in 2014 when he slipped from third to sixth and from three back to four back between rounds one and two.
Quiros and Derksen are the only winners of the event to be outside the top-ten at halfway and the other 24 were all inside the top-six. This is not a place to try and play catch-up. Rory sat tied for sixth and two off the lead after round one last year but he was in front by halfway and never headed after that.
At first glance, Rory McIlroy appears to have an excellent chance of defending his title and I can certainly see why he’s so short but he’s definitely not for me for a number of reasons. His putting left a lot to be desired a fortnight ago in Abu Dhabi and if that doesn’t improve it’s hard to see him winning. He’s never successfully defended any title. He’s won this event twice but in nine appearances he’s only made the top-five three times and he’s still never broke 70 on day four.
I know he won well 12 months ago but the course played softer than it normally does and Rory’s score usually worsens here as the course dries out. His average first round score is an impressive 66.88 but it leaps up to 69.22 in round two, 69.85 in round three, and right up to 72.57 in round four.
One could argue that he makes for a cracking back-to-lay vehicle at this venue but not at around 5/2. I’d rather leave him alone at that price and maybe even lay him in the top-five market at odds-on.
Henrik Stenson is the clear second favourite and on the evidence of his third place finish in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, he could very easily contend here. That was Henrik’s first decent effort in Abu Dhabi in a long time so it was an eye-catching performance. He won here back in 2007 and he has another four top-seven finishes so he obviously loves the course.
On the negative side, although he performed admirably well in Abu Dhabi, that was his first start since having surgery on his knee and that has to be considered and he’s also tricky to get across the line. I lost count of how many times he traded at odds-on last year without winning and I’m happy to swerve him too.
From just six starts, Martin Kaymer has more top-five finishes here than Rory and now he has the Abu Dhabi Championship out of the way, he could be ready to kick-on. Having led by ten strokes after five holes in round four there last year, he managed to get beat and I think that affected him quite badly. He’s not won since and playing there two weeks ago might not have been easy. The ghosts have been laid to rest now though and with form figures here reading 2-4-4-31-13-4, Kaymer has to be respected.
I liked a few here but I’m going to war with four from the start and first up is the man who very nearly pulled off a decent win for me in Abu Dhabi – Thomas Pieters. The big-hitting Belgium has more than doubled in price again after a disappointing week in Qatar but that downturn in form, after the disappointment of such a narrow defeat in Abu Dhabi, was understandable, especially given he tweeted this on Saturday, “Playing sick is never fun. On my way to Abu Dhabi now”.
He may also have been hindered by the breezy conditions too, although I can’t be sure on that. I haven’t seen enough of him to accurately assess his ability to play in the wind yet.
Pieters finished 42nd on debut 12 months ago, so improvement is required, but I see no reason at all to think this venue isn’t ideal and if he plays like he did in Abu Dhabi he’ll go very close.
Andy Sullivan is rapidly developing into a fine desert golf exponent and at 29.00 I’m prepared to overlook his poor performance on Sunday in Abu Dhabi. He was 12th on debut in 2013, missed the cut in 2014 and fourth last year so he does have form in the book.
Thorbjorn Olesen looked a bit of a no-brainer bet at 44.00 too. He didn’t do much wrong in Qatar last week, where he finished second, and he has two top-five finishes here in the last three years. He missed the cut 12 months ago but he was third in 2013 and fifth a year later.
And finally, even though I know his game is far from what it used to be, I’ve thrown a few pounds at course specialist, Ernie Els. The three-time winner has also finished second three times and if he’s ever to rekindle the magic, this is as a good a place at any for it to happen and 270.00 looks big.
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