Who is the best player in the world right now? Tiger Woods may still head the rankings, but serious doubts remain about his performance in majors and general career trajectory. Masters champ Adam Scott is closing fast and increasingly looks the man to beat in majors. If we are talking about consistency and recent achievements, though, it is hard to fault the claims of Henrik Stenson, winner of both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai. Currently third in the world rankings, the Swede is a few good weeks away from challenging Tiger and entering arguably his favourite spell of the season.
No mention there for Rory McIlroy, who held the number one ranking this time last year. At least Rory finished 2013 in style with victory in a weakish Australian Open field, but after an otherwise winless year, he has plenty to prove. The market nevertheless still loves Rory, making him 7.06/1 favourite for this week's Abu Dhabi Championship. Assuming his latest ill-prepared failure at this venue is overlooked, a previous Abu Dhabi finishing record of 2/2/3/5/11 suggests he'll put up a bold show.
Ultimately, the answer to that opening question will likely fluctuate throughout the season. There is no dominant, standout player as we saw during Tiger's peak. Woods will doubtless win his favourite events yet again. Scott will likely contend in most majors. Right now, through till the World Matchplay at the end of February, is Stenson's time.
When assessing Stenson's up and down career, it is important to discount the bad years when his game was in crisis, from the start of 2010 to mid-2012. Either side of that, his record is one of a consistent, reliable world-class winner. The high point was victory at the 2009 Players Championship, but Stenson usually reserved his very best golf for the desert.
Consider the following numbers. In the first three Abu Dhabi renewals, he finished 2/8/2. From 2006 to 2010, he registered five straight top-seven finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic, winning in 2007. Likewise from 2005, his next five results in the Qatar Masters were 2/1/7/2/2. He also won 11 out of 12 matches at the World Matchplay around another desert layout, The Gallery.
As that superb record belongs to the old Stenson, the new improved version must be expected to make hay in those four events. Stenson's golf on a variety of courses was peerless during the second half of last season, most memorably at another desert venue, the Earth Course. His runaway performance there, to wrap up the Race to Dubai, was arguably the best by anyone all year.
For my money, the Abu Dhabi markets are wrong. While Rory's course record commands respect, he doesn't deserve favouritism over Stenson in either the outright market or for their Tournament Matchbet. I'm backing Stenson for both and intend to follow up in those other forthcoming desert events.
Back Henrik Stenson 2u @ 9.28/1 to win the Abu Dhabi Championship
Back Henrik Stenson 5u @ 2.111/10 to beat Rory McIlroy