Steve Rawlings takes a detailed look at the season ending DP World Tour Championship where big hitters have previously come to the fore. Read what our man thinks it will take to win at the Earth Course here ahead of Thursday's start...
“The Earth Course is long and the fairways are generous so it’s no surprise to see that only one of the six previous winners ranked outside the top-eight for Driving Distance. “
The DP World Tour Championship was first staged in 2009, when the European Tour replicated the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup with the Race to Dubai.
The DP World Tour Championship is the third and final event of the R2D's three-event Final Series and it determines who wins the R2D. It's a limited field event for the top-60 in the standings.
Lee Westwood won the inaugural staging and in doing so he won the R2D, having trailed Rory McIlroy in the season long race before the off, but for the next five years the R2D was all sewn up before this tournament began so changes had to be made.
Seven players were in with a chance before the off last year and four can still win the R2D this time around. If you're interested in all the different scenarios, check out the European Tour's explanation.
Sky Sports are bound to hype up the outcome all week long but how much do the players even care? McIlroy needs things to go his way to win the R2D, even if he wins this week, but that didn't encourage him to play in the first two Final Series events in Turkey a fortnight ago or in South Africa last week.
Four of the seven winners of this tournament to date also won the Race to Dubai.
The Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf estates, Dubai, UAE
Par 72, 7,675 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 70.79
The Greg Norman-designed Earth Course has been the event's venue since its inception. It's a long, typical desert track with generous fairways.
The Tifeagle Bermuda grass greens are large and undulating, with a lot of run-off areas, and they usually run at around 12.5 on the stimpmeter. Water is in-play on the sixth, 14th and last three holes.
It's a stunning finish that has the potential to produce much drama. The par three 17th, where Rory found the water last year, has an island green and the par five 18th, with water in play twice if you go for the green and three times if you lay-up, is an intriguing hole, where scores can vary greatly - although players are starting to work out how to play the hole and last year it averaged below par at 4.8 for the second year in-a-row.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 08:00 on Thursday.
First Seven DP World Tour Championship Winners
2009 - Lee Westwood -23
2010 - Robert Karlsson -14 (playoff)
2011 - Alvaro Quiros -19
2012 - Rory McIlroy -23
2013 - Henrik Stenson -25
2014 - Henrik Stenson -16
2015 - Rory McIlroy -21
What Will it Take to Win the DP World Tour Championship?
The Earth Course is long and the fairways are generous so it's no surprise to see that only one of the six previous winners ranked outside the top-eight for Driving Distance. McIlroy only ranked tied for 36th for Driving Accuracy last year and when Alvaro Quiros won here in 2011, he ranked 55th for D.A. And remember, there were only 60 in the line-up.
McIlroy only ranked tied 25th for Greens In Regulation when he first won the tournament in 2012 but that's the worst any winner has ranked for GIR and five of the seven winners have ranked inside the top-four.
The first three home 12 months ago all ranked inside the top-five for Putts Per GIR but putting hasn't been a vital stat in a number of renewals. McIlroy is the only winner to rank inside the top-ten for putting and the 2014 result highlights that really well. Here's how the top-four ranked in two of the various different putting stats.
First, Henrik Stenson - Putting Average ranking T16th and Putts per Round ranking 24th
T2, Rory McIlroy - Putting Average ranking T16th and Putts per Round ranking 18th
T2, Justin Rose - Putting Average ranking 14th and Putts per Round ranking 18th
T2, Victor Dubuisson - Putting Average ranking 21st and Putts per Round ranking 30th
Is There an Angle In?
Anyone that plays desert golf well has to be respected and the two events to really concentrate on are the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters.
Three of the five players to have won this event in its very short history - Stenson (twice), McIlroy (twice) and Quiros - have all won the Dubai Desert Classic and the 2012 DDC winner, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, traded at just 1.4840/85 in this two years ago before throwing the tournament away at the 16th hole. Cabrera-Bello and last year's runner-up here, Andy Sullivan, both finished tied for second at the DDC in February.
In addition to winning this title, Karlsson, Stenson and Quiros have also won in Qatar, and Westwood should arguably have won at all three venues. The inaugural winner of this tournament has been in contention numerous times in Qatar and he's twice finished runner-up at the DDC. The same can be said of the infuriating-to-follow Cabrera-Bello, also runner-up in Qatar in January.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
All seven winners were in form and Stenson, two years ago, is the winner not to have won an event somewhere earlier in the season.
All the winners have been top-class players and the 2011 winner, Quiros, at 44.043/1 is by some way the biggest priced winner we've had at the event.
Rory and Stenson have hardly been hard to spot before the off in the last four years and they were trading at single-figure prices.
This may not be the tournament to go backing rank outsiders.
All seven winners have opened up with a round of 68 or better and all seven winners were inside the top-six after day one. Rory last year, and Robert Karlsson, who beat Ian Poulter in a play-off in 2010, are the only winners not to be in front at halfway or after round three. Karlsson is the only first round leader to go on to win though. He'd dropped back after a second round 75 before rallying with back-to-back 67s.
If you're betting in-running, beware the tricky finish. The 16th is a fairly difficult par four that really caught out Cabrera-Bello in 2014 and the par three 17th is also tough. Having been two clear and having already been matched at a low of just 1.041/25, Rory hit a stinker of a tee-shot there 12 months ago to find the water. It looked like it was game on for a few minutes and that he and eventual runner-up, Andy Sullivan, would go up the 18th tied for the lead but then Rory drained his bogey putt from around 30 feet and from that moment on there was only ever going to be one winner.
The 18th ranked the 13th hardest last year and it ranked as the easiest hole in 2013 but with water in-play throughout, scores ranging from an eagle to a double-bogey or even worse are possible (see passage on Thomas Pieters below) so if your pick is leading with three to play, that might be a good time to take some profit.
Nicely rested and raring to go and with course form figures that read 3-5-11-1-5-2-1, Rory McIlroy has an outstanding chance to win the event for a third time and odds of just a fraction over 3/1 aren't too short.
Henrik Stenson is also bidding to win the event for a third time but his current form is stumbling block. His game is ideally suited to last week's venue - the Gary Player Country Club - but he struggled all week long and could only finish eighth. This is clearly another course he enjoys but after last week's disappointing effort he looks worth swerving at a little over 6/1.
There's already been money for yesterday's winner, Alex Noren, but he makes little appeal at the prices. He's won four of his last 11 European Tour starts so he's in the form of his life but he's never played well the week after he's won and he doesn't have any course form to get excited about either. He was sixth here in 2009 but in his three subsequent starts he's finished 37th, 39th, and 38th.
Given how strong the in-running trends are here, I'm going to keep most of my powder dry and look to get involved in-play but I have got two I couldn't leave out before the off.
Ryder Cup star, Thomas Pieters, is almost twice the price he was last week but I see this venue as far more suitable. He could only finish 22nd on debut last year so he has to improve to figure and he also needs to get to grips with the finishing hole. He birdied it in round four 12 months ago but he bogeyed it on Thursday and Friday and he recorded an eight there in round three!
Whether its golfers, horses, dogs or athletes, the market always struggles to assess a sudden improvement in form and it's often too dismissive of a great performance out of the blue. Victor Dubuisson has shortened up considerably all day and he was backed at bigger on the High Street than he was ever matched at on the exchange but he's still a fair price if last week's third at the Nedbank wasn't a fluke.
I backed the big-hitting Frenchman in this event at just 25.024/1 last year so I was happy to side with him at 65.064/1. His form figures here now read 36-3-2-13 and that's without ever shooting better than 70 in round one. This course really suits him and if can just start a bit better than he has previously, I can see him having a great week.
I'll be back tomorrow with my RSM Classic preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter