Finn Sami Valimaki likes Greg Norman designs
Adrian Meronk long game can drive another good week
Nacho Elvira is a big outsider who could nip a place
A 15th edition of the DP World Tour Championship this week and you'd have to argue that the event and the host course have been a success in those one-and-a-half decades.
Before its creation, the circuit ended the year with the Volvo Masters at Valderrama and there was nothing wrong with that conclusion - a decent event and a course with a distinct history.
It was quite a gamble to go big with a flashy event on the Earth Course and yet the package has delivered. So much so, in fact, that the first 14 winners were of the highest quality.
Only one, Alvaro Quiros, hasn't played in the Ryder Cup and only two, Quiros and Robert Karlsson, hasn't won a major.
In all, 10 of the 14 winners were priced 16/1 or shorter at the start of the week which highlights both the ability of the course to sort the wheat from the chaff and also the difficulty for this column in identifying each-way picks.
The flipside is that many of the places have been filled by big-priced outsiders (and Danny Willett was three figures when he won in 2018).
In the last six years, in fact, Alexander Bjork, Laurie Canter, Mike Lorenzo Vera, Dean Burmester, Adrian Otaegui and Dylan Frittelli have returned a place from a three-figure starting price.
We'll hope that last year, when five players priced 18/119.00 and lower filled five of the six places and the sixth man was 28/129.00, was a one-off rather than a sign of the future.
In the past, the Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro has been a decent pointer for those outsiders - alas the event dropped off the schedule this year.
It was, however, replaced by the Qatar Masters and that might well step in as a way forward because specialists at that event when played at Doha GC have a very fine record in this one.
As Steve Rawlings, tipper of Camillo Villegas at a big price last week, notes in his preview (link below), Henrik Stenson, Quiros and Karlsson have completed the double while Lee Westwood, Paul Lawrie, Branden Grace and Rafa Cabrera Bello have come mighty close.
Desert form in general is worth keeping an eye on - two-time winner Rory McIlroy is exceptional in the UAE while three-timer winner Jon Rahm played his college golf in Arizona.
I'm also in agreement with Steve about keeping an eye on links form. It can get blustery out at Jumeirah and in recent years Matt Fitzpatrick and Willett have joined Karlsson and Westwood as double winners of the Dunhill Links Championship and this event.
Meanwhile, other Earth winners McIlroy, Stenson and Morikawa are Open champions while Rahm is a multiple winner of the Irish Open on linksland.
The Finn Sami Valimaki made his breakthrough on the DP World Tour with victory in the 2020 Oman Open at Al Mouj GC which ticks a few boxes for this week: it's a desert track, it's one that suits excellent links performers and it was, like the Earth Course, designed by Greg Norman.
At the end of 2020, Valimaki also finished T13th on the Fire Course at Jumeirah ahead of landing fifth on debut in this championship.
He struggled soon after that sparkling rookie season but over the last year or so he has recalibrated and he confirmed he was back to his best with victory in the Qatar Masters at Doha a few weeks ago.
As things stand he will win one of the 10 PGA Tour cards available to the highest-ranked performers not already exempt but he needs a solid week to confirm it.
That should ensure he's sharp.
With course form and very handy recent form behind him he can go well at a big price.
We'll go lower for the second pick and settle on the Pole Adrian Meronk whose superb ball-striking, fuelled by long straight driving, has helped him win four times in the last 15 months (and three times this season).
That stellar long game also helped him finish seventh on the course last year, when he was also helped by a growing appreciation of all the angles on the Earth Course - he has been able to educate himself on them while conducting out-of-season practice in Dubai.
In last year's third round, he carded a 65 which was the equal of Jon Rahm's and Rory McIlroy's scores but no-one else got within three of them.
A year earlier, on course debut, Meronk finished T32nd when his first and final rounds were among the five best scores of the day.
He really enjoys the UAE, landing seven top 10s in 11 starts, and he can play this week with a level of freedom - he's third in the Race to Dubai but can't win it and he's not going to miss out on a PGA Tour card so need not fret about that.
Note the staking plan change - Nacho Elvira is a big price this week so we'll bolster Meronk and tweak the Spaniard accordingly.
There's absolutely no doubt he missed a lot of cuts but he can't miss one this week and the few spots where he consistently excels are kind of intriguing.
He was third at Doha two starts ago and he has also been a play-off loser and sixth on that layout.
He's been seventh and ninth at Dom Pedro.
He's been ninth and third at Al Mouj.
He's also been T12th at the Norman-designed El Saler.
A big outsider no doubt but there's something to go with at an enormous price and he can land a place.
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