AVIV Dubai Championship: Horsfield backed to go low in Dubai

Golfer Sam Horsfield
Sam Horsfield in action in Portugal

The European Tours moved from Portugal to Dubai for the second edition of the Dubai Championship. Read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"If Sam Horsfield can continue to stripe his irons and the putter sparks up with a return to the Fire Course, he looks certain to contend."

Tournament History

The AVIV Dubai Championship, formerly the Golf in Dubai Championship, was introduced to the European Tour schedule a year ago to give anyone that's qualifies for next week's Race to Dubai finale, the DP World Tour Championship, an opportunity to acclimatise to the region.

It wasn't an especially strong field 12 months ago but with the recent Ryder Cuppers, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, and Bernd Wiesberger all in attendance this time around, the second edition is a decent renewal.

Venue

The Fire Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE

Course Details

Par 72, 7,480 yards
Stroke Average in 2020 - 69.62

Like next week's venue at the Jumeirah Golf Estates, the Earth Course, the Fire Course was also designed by Greg Norman.

Having opened in 2010, the Fire Course is easier than the Earth Course with fairways that are easier to find and greens that aren't quite so racy.

Although there are plenty of elevation changes, especially off the tee, the Fire Course has a more linksy feel to it that the Earth Course.

FIRE COURSE DUBAI 5 2021.jpg

It's a traditional par 72 layout with four par threes and four par fives, and it's a very easy, scorable track for the pros. Andy Sullivan opened-up the inaugural event with an 11-under-par 61 and there were five rounds of 63 throughout the week.

The par three second was the hardest hole on the course last year but it only averaged 3.13 and only five holes averaged over-par for the week. The par five finishing hole was the easiest on the layout, averaging 4.52 for the week.

The Dubai Championship provides a perfect warm-up for next week's trickier test around the Earth Course.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky all four days, beginning at 8:00 on Thursday.

Inaugural Winner with Pre-event Exchange Price

2019 - Antoine Rozner -25 90.089/1

What Will it Take to Win the Dubai Championship?

Looking at the stats for last year's inaugural staging, the winner, Antoine Rozner, hit it further than anyone else off the tee but he was the only player in the top-ten to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Distance so that looks like red herring.

antoine rozner.jpg

Mike Lorenzo-Vera, who finished tied for second, topped the Putting Average stats and he ranked second for Strokes Gained Putting but as Sam Horsfield showed, a hot putter isn't all you going to need here. The Englishman ranked first for SGP but finished tied for 45th.

The two key stats for last year appear to be Scrambling (the first five home ranked 14th, first, second, seventh and 22nd) and Strokes Gained Tee to Green.

Andy Sullivan, who traded at 1.271/4 when he led by four early on in round four, topped the SG-T2G stats last year with the winner, Rozner, ranking second. Hitting lots of greens in order to set up birdie chances will be key again this time around so given Sullivan sat on top of the Strokes Gained Approach figures this time last year, that seems a very sensible place to start again.

Is There an Angle In?

Form at other desert venues is going to be worth considering so look at the past results for next week's event - the DP World Championship, as well as the Dubai Desert Classic, the Saudi International and also the Qatar Masters. Rozner followed up his success here in December with a victory in Qatar in March.

Links form is also well worth considering as many fine links exponents prove equally adept at desert golf. Events to study are the Scottish Open over the last ten years, the 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019 editions of the Irish Open, the 2019 British Masters from Hillside Links, the Open Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2019 - Antoine Rozner - tied fifth, trailing by four 29.028/1

In-Play Tactics

Although the afternoon starters on day one last year averaged exactly one stroke less than the early starters, Sullivan started in the morning and so did the eventual winner, Rozner, and Matt Wallace, who finished alongside Sullivan in a tie for second. Rozner and Wallace sat tied for second after day one and that tells us all we need to know about desert golf.

As highlighted above, links and desert golf are quite similar in many respects and whether in the desert or at a seaside links, a fast start is often hugely beneficial. Making up ground at any tournament staged at a links venue or at a desert track is tough and especially so if the weather is benign. When the scoring is low, as it will be again this week, it's almost impossible to make up lost ground without help from the weather.

In blustery conditions, when the scoring isn't as low, one or two players will somehow construct a decent score and make giant strides up the leaderboard but when the course is defenceless and most of the field is making birdies, it's extremely hard to catch those that got off to a fast start. Concentrating on the early leaders, whether to create a position to trade, or to try and snare the winner and leave the position alone, looks the way to go again.

Keeping an eye on the forecast looks worthwhile as there wasn't a huge change in the weather last year but those that were drawn PM-Am were advantaged to the tune of 1.46 strokes so it looks like a venue where a big draw bias is possible.

Market Leaders

It's hard to crab the chances of any of the front three in the market. Paul Casey hasn't been in the best of form since he finished fifth at the FedEx St Jude in August and he's playing here for the first time but there's no reason to think he won't take to the place like a duck to water given he won the Dubai desert Classic back in January and that he's a two-time winner of the Abu Dhabi Championship.

Paul Casey in Dubai.jpg

Like Casey, Tommy Fleetwood has also won the Abu Dhabi Championship twice (back-to-back in 2017 and 2018) and he's also playing here for the first time. He's in better form than Casey and he's highly likely contend but he's far from prolific.

The third best, Bernd Wiesberger, is another desert specialist who looks likely to contend and despite throwing the European Masters title away in the summer, he's more prolific than the two Englishman at the head of the market.

Wiesberger also has the slight advantage of playing here last year (finished eighth) and of the three, he's to one I like best.

Selections

As highlighted above, Sam Horsfield topped the Strokes Gained Putting stats 12 months ago so he certainly took to the greens but the rest of his game was so poor that he finished down the field.

He arrived in Dubai in search of his third win of the year, but he'd gone off the boil completely and his current figures read MC-MC-43-MC. This time around he arrives in decent heart, topping the Strokes Gained Approach stats and having finished 12th in Portugal last week with only the putter letting him down.

He ranked third for Strokes Gained Tee to Green last week and seventh for Greens In Regulation but he ranked only 51st for SGP and 44th for Putting Average. If he can continue to stripe his irons and the putter sparks up with a return to the Fire Course, he looks certain to contend.

Despite being familiar with the venue, having practiced here on numerous occasions, Guido Migliozzi missed the cut last year and he isn't in great form this time around but I'm happy to chance him at a big price. He finished second to Rozner at the Qatar Masters and there's no reason why he shouldn't play well here.

I've got at least one more pick lined up for the Find Me a 100 Winner column, which I'll publish tomorrow, but for now I'm going with just three and the last of the trio is Lucas Bjerregaard, who will feel like a new man this week after saving his card with his second placed finish in Portugal on Sunday.

Bjerregaard has won the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2018, a year after finishing 11th at the Qatar Masters so I see no reason why he won't take to the venue.

Selections
Sam Horsfield @ 38.037/1
Guido Migliozzi @ 70.069/1
Lucas Bjerregaard @ 80.079/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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