The European Tour season ends in Dubai this week with three men gunning to be top dog. Read our man's comprehensive preview of the season finale at the Jumeirah Golf Estates here...
"Fitzpatrick sat tied for seventh after an opening three-under-par 69 last year and that’s the furthest from the front any winner has been after round one but he was still only three off the lead. This is most certainly a front-runners' track and the previous seven winners had all opened up with a round of 68 or better and all seven were inside the top-six places after day one."
The DP World Tour Championship was first staged in 2009, when the European Tour replicated the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup with its own version called the Race to Dubai.
The DP World Tour Championship is the eighth and final event of the Rolex 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 two years ago, four could still win it last year but only three are in the running this time around -Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
Four of the eight winners of this tournament to date, also won the Race to Dubai.
The Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE.
Par 72, 7,831 yards
Stroke index in 2016 - 70.41
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 6th, 14th and last three holes.
It's a stunning finish that has the potential to produce much drama. The par three 17th 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 4.85 and below par for the third year in-a-row.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 08:00 on Thursday.
First Eight 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
2016 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -17
What Will it Take to Win the DP World Tour Championship?
The Earth Course is long and the fairways are generous so hitting it a long way is a distinct advantage and it's no surprise to see that last year's winner, Matthew Fitzpatrick, is the only winner to rank outside the top-eight for Driving Distance but he wasn't that short - ranking 16th for DD.
Fitzpatrick ranked second for Driving Accuracy but that's a largely irrelevant stat. Rory McIlroy only ranked tied for 36th for Driving Accuracy two years ago 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 and Fitzpatrick only ranked 21st but those two look like the outliers and five of the eight winners have ranked inside the top-four for GIR.
The 2014 renewal produced some strange putting stats (see below) but that looks like a bit of a one-off given Stenson's Putting Average ranking was 16th and every other winner's ranking has been eighth or better. The first three home last year had a PA ranking for the week of second, fourth and fifth and they ranked tied third, first and tied third for Putts Per Round.
1st, Henrik Stenson - Putting Average ranking T16th and Putts per Round ranking 24th
T2nd, Rory McIlroy - Putting Average ranking T16th and Putts per Round ranking 18th
T2nd, Justin Rose - Putting Average ranking 14th and Putts per Round ranking 18th
T2nd, Victor Dubuisson - Putting Average ranking 21st and Putts per Round ranking 30th
Is There an Angle In?
Anyone who 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 six players to have won this event in its very short history - Stenson (twice), McIlroy (twice) and Alvaro Quiros - have all won the Dubai Desert Classic and the 2012 DDC winner, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, traded at just 1.4840/85 in this event three years ago before throwing the tournament away at the 16th hole. Cabrera-Bello and the 2015 runner-up here, Andy Sullivan, both finished tied for second at the DDC in the February of 2015.
In addition to winning this title, Robert Karlsson, Stenson and Quiros have also won in Qatar, and Lee 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, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who was also runner-up in Qatar last year.
Fitzpatrick was the first winner here that didn't have a really strong desert golf pedigree.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
All eight winners were in form and Stenson, three years ago, is the only winner not to have won an event somewhere earlier in the season.
All the winners have been top-class players and up until last year, when Fitzpatrick won having been matched at a triple-figure price before the off, the 2011 winner, Quiros, who was matched at odds of 44.043/1, had been, by some distance, the biggest priced winner of the event.
Rory and Stenson, who have both won the event twice in the last five years, were trading at single-figure prices each year so the tournament has a history of going to the fancied players.
Fitzpatrick sat tied for seventh after an opening three-under-par 69 last year and that's the furthest from the front any winner has been after round one but he was still only three off the lead. This is most certainly a front-runners' track and the previous seven winners had all opened up with a round of 68 or better and all seven were inside the top-six places after day one.
Fitzpatrick still trailed by three at halfway and he, Rory (in 2015), and Robert Karlsson, who beat Ian Poulter in a play-off in 2010, are the only winners not to be in front after rounds two and three. The other five winners were all never headed after 36 holes. Bizarrely, 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 over the weekend to catch Poults.
As they've done in each of the last two weeks on the European Tour, the field will go out in reverse order after round one this week and that might go some way to explaining why the leaders are so hard to catch.
When interviewed by Sky after round two last year, Andy Sullivan talked about how much warmer it was in the afternoons here and how he couldn't reach the second green in two in the morning but that the later starters would get there easily. Maybe the leaders getting more favourable conditions is one of the reasons why it's hard to play catch-up?
If you're betting in-running, beware the tricky finish where we've already witnessed drama aplenty. 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 two years ago to find the water. It looked like it was game on for a few minutes and that he and the eventual runner-up, the aforementioned Sullivan, would go up the 18th tied for the lead. Rory drained his bogey putt from around 30 feet and from that moment on there was only ever going to be one winner but last year was even more dramatic...
Tyrrell Hatton was matched at odds-on on five separate occasions during round four and he hit a low of 1.132/15 when he made a miraculous par save at the 17th hole but with the event at his mercy, he drove in to the water on the 18th and Fitzpatrick made birdie there to pip him by one.
It's hard to dismiss the chances of Justin Rose given he's twice finished runner-up here and that he's looking to win his third event in-a-row. As already mentioned above, this is a tournament that tends to go to the fancied runners and I wouldn't attempt to talk anyone out of backing him at an industry-wide best of 7/1 with the Sportsbook.
Despite leading the event at the halfway stage 12 months ago, Sergio Garcia's form around here isn't great and his figures read an uninspiring 7-21-11-9-12-19. We've not seen the US Masters winner since he won at Valderrama last month and I'm more than happy to leave him out of my calculations. At a slightly bigger price, I much prefer the chances of fellow Spaniard, Jon Rahm.
The big hitting world number five has been a bit disappointing of late, missing the cut at Valderrama and failing to get competitive at the WGC HSBC Champions in China last time out and he could be construed as a risky play here given that form and the fact that he's playing here for the first time but at around 15.014/1, he looks very reasonably priced.
Rahm hasn't got any desert golf experience but he was fifth at the Phoenix Open in just his second start on the PGA Tour and I can see him taking to the Earth Course like a duck to water.
Last week's winner, Branden Grace, has twice won the Qatar Masters and he may well have won it three times had he entered the event in January so he ticks the course correlation box and indeed, he has played well here before, finishing sixth on debut on 2012 and third two years ago. Tyrrell Hatton and Rose have both already won back-to-back this autumn and it's certainly not inconceivable that Grace could emulate them given he's previously won back-to-back tournaments twice before.
I could very easily have backed both Rose and Grace. I can see the pair going well and I also liked Victor Dubuisson, who has great course and current form but I was on board at 65.064/1 when he led with a round to go last year at and I just can't back him at less than half that price this time around.
I know the field isn't as strong as it was 12 months ago and that he played well last week but he was third in the Nedbank 12 months ago too so all things considered he's a fraction short so I'm going to begin the week with just a small bet on Rahm.
This looks like a perfect test for the highest ranked player in the field and I thought he was two or three points too big.
Jon Rahm @ 15.5
I'll be back later with my RSM Classic preview.
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