Rory has a special affinity with this tournament. "I played twice as an amateur here in '06 and '07, so the tournament were very good to me giving me those invites, and it was sort of, I guess, fitting in a way that I won my first tournament here as a pro in '09." It's also a course that suits his game. "You've got to really control your ball flight, especially coming into the greens. It's a good course for me. A lot of the holes are going right to left so I can cut off a few of those corners with a bit of a draw off the tee." He hasn't failed to make the top 10 since his victory in 2009 but, in terms of the markets here, he's made the top five just once in the last four years so he's not perhaps the shoo-in he was in Abu Dhabi where he'd been top five in four of his last five starts. On current worldwide form he is a top 5 play though as he's finished second in four of his last five outings.
Last four events: 2-15-2-2
Course form: 9-5-10-6-1-MC
UAE form: 2-2-9-2-5-MC-1-5-2-11
Last 50 starts - Win: 12%, Top 5: 32%, Top 10: 54%
Here's a surprising stat. Henrik Stenson hasn't managed a top 10 in one of these early-season Gulf Swing events since 2010 - a drought that spans 14 tournaments. What a contrast that is to previous years when he knocked up wins and second places galore. In short, the Swede is now a confirmed slow starter to each calendar year and, on these numbers, has to be a lay for both top 5 and top 10. Last week's T13 (aided by a closing 66) in Qatar would be a concern but his putter remains cold. Stenson, who lived in Dubai for 10 years, had this to say about the state of his game in Tuesday's press conference: "Obviously I've played better than I am at the moment, but I certainly played a lot worse, as well. So we're somewhere in the middle, lurking in the background a little bit."
Last four events: 13-MC-1-3
Course form: 29-26-20-MC-8-3-6-1-7-22
UAE form: MC-1-29-MC-1-26-23-7-20-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 40%, Top 10: 46%
Kaymer gave a masterclass in positive, reasoned thinking as he talked to the press on Tuesday about blowing a 10-shot lead in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago. "I don't want to call it a bad experience, because it's not a bad experience. It would create a bad result on the scorecard, but it creates a lot of truth about yourself; that we are not machines; that maybe the German engineering doesn't always work. It does work, usually, but once in a while, it gets stuck too and for me to learn that made it, in some ways, a brilliant day for me." Wow. The German hasn't played here since 2012 so will have to reacquaint himself with the course and his top 5 and top 10% figures are down on most of his big-name rivals but after a third and a second on his last two starts he's clearly in excellent form.
Last four events: 3-2-21-39
Course form: 13-31-4-4-2
UAE form: 3-39-31-19-6-26-13-MC-11-31
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 12%, Top 10: 22%
A quick glance at the numbers shows that layers of Sergio in both top 5 and top 10 markets would have collected on all five of his visits to the Dubai Desert Classic. True, he's been thereabouts but the Emirates course remains a puzzle he can't quite solve. This was his own assessment in Tuesday's press conference: "I feel like on this course, I've done well, but I probably haven't got out of it as much as I should have. I felt like I've been up there several times. I felt like I've played fairly well but unfortunately things have not happened to me yet on this course." Sergio could only finish T46 in Qatar last week after a destructive nine holes in round three (69-77-69-69) and said of his performance: "Overall, I saw some good signs. So hopefully I can bring those good feelings into this week and kind of get going as the year goes on." That may take a while so, for now, he could be worth opposing.
Last four events: 46-9-12-25
Course form: 17-20-11-19-MC
UAE form: 12-19-17-9-12-11-20-21
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 26%, Top 10: 44%
Backers of Westwood in the outright market here will have been tearing their hair out over the last few years after watching him spurn golden chances to win. But for top 5 and top 10 backers it's been job done, thank you very much, as he's delivered in three of the last four years. Why does he do so well? Westwood said on his last visit in 2013: "It just rewards good play, good, solid play. If you hit good, solid shots, you have a chance." The concern would be that this is Westwood's first start since the Thailand Golf Championship in mid-December. Then again, he did win that tournament so confidence should still be high.
Last four events: 1-16-47-8
Course form: 5-2-15-2-39-10-25-28-6-12
UAE form: 47-5-5-48-2-17-29-15-64-3
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 10%, Top 10: 26%
The Scot has won this tournament for the last two years and also finished second in 2012 and 10th in 2011. Surely he can't keep that incredible record going, can he? Asked about the secret to his success here, Gallacher said in Tuesday's press conference: "I'm very familiar with the course. Play it a lot. Come out on holiday a lot. It kind of suits my eye. It's quite an old fashioned course. You have a lot of doglegs, a lot of shaped shots. Kind of the way I grew up playing the game was to shape it both ways." And as for the state of his game this week following his T33 in Qatar (final round 67): "I had not played for six, seven weeks. I was a bit rusty to be honest. Last round was good. I started to hit the ball pretty well and played pretty good. Signs are good for this week."
Last four events: 33-12-31-15
Course form: 1-1-2-10-31-MC-44-44-22-51
UAE form: 31-1-8-34-1-MC-16-2-35-10
Last 50 starts - Win: 2%, Top 5: 14%, Top 10: 24%
The man of the moment on the European Tour after his victory in last week's Qatar Masters made it two wins in four starts. Grace has also finished in the top 25 in each of his last 10 tournaments although, apart from the victories, only one of those was a top 10. He's played this event just twice and not had any success with a 51st in 2012 (71-71-71-72) and a missed cut last year (72-72). There's a strand of logic that says South Africans are better suited to the grainier greens of Qatar than Dubai so perhaps that explains his lack of success here so far.
Last four events: 1-20-15-1
Course form: MC-51
UAE form: 20-9-MC-52-52-5-6-51-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 10%, Top 10: 14%
He hasn't had the wins but, along with Grace, Wiesberger is one of the most in-form players on Tour after finishing 6th in Abu Dhabi and 3rd in last week's Qatar Masters. At Doha he was 10th in Driving Distance, 6th in Greens in Regulation and 10th in Putting Average so everything is working well. This is the Austrian's fifth crack at the Dubai Desert Classic and he tasted his first top 10 last year when shooting 70-70-68-68. His last three appearances in the United Arab Emirates have brought finishes of 6th (Abu Dhabi), 16th (DP World Tour Championship) and 9th (here) so he's becoming a consistent and reliable performer in this part of the world.
Last four events: 3-6-13-16
Course form: 9-59-24-MC
UAE form: 6-16-9-MC-34-59-21-42-24-MC
Last 50 starts - Win: 2%, Top 5: 16%, Top 10: 26%
The South African played this event every year between 2004 and 2010 but this will be his first appearance for five years. After taking a while to click, he did shine here in both 2008 (3rd) and 2009 (7th). In the latter he was coming off second places in Abu Dhabi and Qatar while he'd also played both those events in 2008. This time, Oosthuizen is making his first and only appearance on the three-week Gulf Swing although he was second on his last start - mid-December's Alfred Dunhill Championship in his native South Africa. Seemingly clear of injury, he could be a player to watch in 2015.
Last four events: 2-7-6-14
Course form: 44-7-3-MC-MC-51-27
UAE form: 6-32-5-6-MC-13-44
Last 50 starts - Win: 4%, Top 5: 18%, Top 10: 30%
This is G-Mac's first outing of 2015 but, if we want some clues, here's how he's started previous seasons - 2014: 7th Pebble Beach; 2013: MC Northern Trust Open; 2012: 3rd Abu Dhabi; 2011: 3rd Tournament of Champions. The last time he made this his opening event he finished T24 in 2009. Since a T20 the following year, McDowell has kept this off his schedule but a fifth place in 2008 suggests he has no problems with the course. Any further hints from his Twitter feed? Nope, not really, just a fairly expected: "Excited to open up my season here at the Dubai Desert Classic." Also, he told BBC Northern Ireland this week: "I'm feeling fresh and very motivated for the 2015 season."
Last four events: 47-3-16-36
Course form: 20-24-5-44-MC-MC
UAE form: 47-17-52-3-11-3-13-20
Last 50 starts - Win: 8%, Top 5: 18%, Top 10: 38%
Martin Kaymer has made the top five in three of his five starts in this event and given the insights he gave about his processing of the collapse in Abu Dhabi, he's in the right place mentally to post another.
Let's not forget that he was a class apart for most of the Abu Dhabi event so clearly he's playing beautifully and should kick on again here.
It could be dangerous to lay Henrik Stenson for a top 10 but the fact that he hasn't had one in his last 14 starts in the early-season Gulf Swing events suggests it's valid to take him on. A cold putter should give layers some comfort.
Graeme McDowell has started three of the last four seasons with a top 10 and was fifth here on his third last start so is worth following when fresh.
A top 5 is tempting but backing him for top 10 looks the safer play. His top 10 figures (38%) for his last 50 starts are only bettered by Rory, Garcia and Stenson (most of the Swede's coming in the second half of the year).
Back Martin Kaymer for Top 5 @ 4.94/1
Lay Henrik Stenson for Top 10 @ 2.6413/8
Back Graeme McDowell for Top 10 @ 4.47/2