The European Tour draws to a close this week with the DP World Tour Championship so our man's here nice an early with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start...
"Rahm was the third man to win the DP World Tour Championship twice in a span of just eight years so it’s fair to say course form stands up well."
More than a year after Pablo Larrazabal won the first event of the 2020 European Tour season, with two editions of the Alfred Dunhill Championship staged, the season draws to a close this week with the now traditional curtain closer - the DP World Tour Championship.
First staged 11 years ago, 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 fourth and final event of the reshaped Rolex Series and it determines who wins the R2D. It's a limited field event for the top-60 in the standings but there will be a number of players in the field from outside the top-60 after a number of withdrawals due to the pandemic.
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 even began and so far, only five of the 11 winners of this tournament have also won the Race to Dubai.
The Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE.
Par 72, 7,677 yards
Stroke index in 2019 - 71.14
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 and 99 bunkers.
The Tifeagle Bermuda grass greens are large and undulating, with a lot of run-off areas, and they're usually set to run at 12 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 appear to have worked it out now. It was the easiest hole on the course in 2017 and it ranked as the second easiest 12 months ago - averaging 4.63.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 7:00 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Jon Rahm -19 8.07/1
2018 - Danny Willett -18 150.0149/1
2017 - Jon Rahm -19 15.014/1
2016 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -17 110.0109/1
2015 - Rory McIlroy -21 5.95/1
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 the 2018 champ, Danny Willett, and the 2016 victor, Matthew Fitzpatrick, are the only winners to rank outside the top-eight for Driving Distance but neither man could be described as especially short. They both had a DD ranking for the week of 16th.
Jon Rahm ranked only eighth last year but six of the top-eight ranked eighth or better and he hit it further than anyone else when he won here for the first time in 2017. The first and second also ranked first and second on the par fives last year.
Rahm also ranked eighth for Driving Accuracy last year, Willet ranked 12th and Fitzpatrick ranked second for DA but that's a largely irrelevant stat most years. Rahm ranked 21st in 2017 and Rory McIlroy only ranked tied for 36th for DA when he won the title for a second time five years ago. And when Alvaro Quiros won here in 2011, with only 60 players in the line-up, he ranked 55th for D.A.
Nobody hit more greens than Rahm last year and the second and third, Tommy Fleetwood and Mike Lorenzo-Vera, ranked tied for third for Greens In Regulation. Willett and joint second, Patrick Reed, ranked tied third for GIR in 2018 and as many as seven of the 11 winners to date have ranked inside the top-four for GIR but it still can't be described as a really key stat given Rahm only ranked 26th for GIR on the first occasion he won here, Fitzpatrick ranked 21st four years ago and McIlroy only ranked 47th in 2012.
The 2014 renewal produced some very strange putting stats but that very much looks like a one-off given the winner, Henrik Stenson, had a Putting Average ranking of 16th and every other winner's ranking has been eighth or better. The first and second ranked one and two for Putting Average last year and the last five winners have ranked first, first, third, second and fourth and the 2010 winner, Robert Karlsson, and the 2012 winner, McIlroy, like last two winners, also both ranked number one.
It looks like a fairly straightforward formula for success here - give it a good whack off the tee and find your touch on the greens. It's yet another event where power and putting will decide the outcome and it's basically just a birdie-fest.
Is There an Angle In?
Anyone that plays desert golf well must be respected. Rahm had form in the States in the desert (he finished fifth in Phoenix in his second start on the PGA Tour) and he followed victory here with success in the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Californian desert but the two events to really concentrate on are the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters.
As many as four of the seven players to have won this event in its short history - Henrik Stenson (twice), McIlroy (twice), Willett and Alvaro Quiros - have all won the Dubai Desert Classic as well and the 2012 DDC winner, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, traded at just 1.4840/85 in this event six 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 and Matt Wallace, who finished tied second here two years ago also finished second at the DDC in 2019.
In addition to winning this title, Robert Karlsson, Stenson and Quiros have also won in Qatar, and the inaugural winner, Lee Westwood, should arguably have won at all three venues. Westwood 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, who was also runner-up in Qatar four years ago.
Last week's Golf in Dubai Championship is bound to provide clues. Also designed by Norman, the neighbouring Fire Course is a little shorter and slightly easier than the Earth Course with grainier, slower greens but both the aforementioned Sullivan and Wallace contended strongly last week and it looked like a perfect warm-up event for this one.
And finally, Rahm was the third man to win the DP World Tour Championship twice in a span of just eight years so it's fair to say course form stands up well.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Danny Willett had started to show some glimpses of a resurgence before he won here two years ago. He'd finished inside the top-eight at both the Italian and Irish Opens and he'd sat second at halfway before finishing seventh in his penultimate start, in the Turkish Airlines Open, but he went off at around 150.0149/1.
He was the first really big outsider to win, the second to be matched at a triple-figure price, the first to be described as largely out of form and he was just the second winner in 10 years not to have won an event somewhere earlier in the season. Stenson, in 2014, is the only other to win here without lifting a trophy earlier in the season.
All the winners have been top-class players and up until 2016, 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.
Rahm was generally an 8.07/1 shot last year and Rory and Stenson, who have both won the event twice, were trading at single-figure prices in each of the two years in which they won so the tournament has a history of going to the fancied players.
Previous Rolex Series winners command respect
The Rolex Series has been halved this season because of the pandemic, so this is the fourth and final one of 2020. I've listed all the previous series winners to date below. They tend to go to fancied players, although the first two winners in 2020 bucked the trend somewhat.
Aaron Rai was winning his first Rolex Series event when he beat Tommy Fleetwood in extra time at the Scottish Open but it's interesting to note that all the Scottish Open winners have been outsiders since it became a Rolex Series event and that - that tournament appears to be something of an outlier given eight of the last ten Rolex Series events have been won by someone who had won at least one previously.
Rolex Series Winners
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren 22.021/1 1/2
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood 25.024/1
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm 18.017/1 1/3
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello 65.064/1
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose 9.28/1 1/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace 18.017/1
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm 13.012/1 2/3
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari 22.021/1
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen 130.0129/1
Open de France 2018 - Alex Noren 19.5 2/2
Irish Open 2018 - Russell Knox 27.026/1
Scottish Open 2018 - Brandon Stone 1000.0
Turkish Airlines Open 2018 - Justin Rose 5.85/1 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2018 - Lee Westwood 55.054/1
DP World Championship 2018 - Danny Willett 150.0149/1 1/2
Abu Dhabi Championship 2019 - Shane Lowry 90.089/1
Irish Open 2019 - Jon Rahm 10.09/1 3/3
Scottish Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 46.045/1
BMW PGA Championship 2019 - Danny Willett 80.079/1 2/2
Italian Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 55.054/1 2/2
Turkish Airlines Open 2019 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2019 - Tommy Fleetwood 20.019/1 2/2
DP World Championship 2019 - Jon Rahm 8.07/1 4/4
Abu Dhabi Championship 2020 - Lee Westwood 140.0139/1 2/2
Scottish Open 2020 - Aaron Rai 110.0109/1
BMW PGA Championship 2019 - Tyrrell Hatton 22.021/1 3/3
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Jon Rahm - tied for the lead 2.0621/20
2018 - Danny Willett - tied for the lead 5.69/2
2017 - Jon Rahm - tied second - trailing by one 4.77/2
2016 - Matthew Fitzpatrick - tied second - trailing by one 6.86/1
2015 - Rory McIlroy - second - trailing by one 2.111/10
After an opening 69, Rahm sat four off the lead and tied for 16th when he won here for the first time three years ago and that's the furthest any winner has trailed by after the opening round.
The Spaniard was third and only three off the lead last year, Fitzpatrick sat tied for seventh and three back in 2016 and other than Rahm in 2017, that's the furthest any winner has trailed by after the opening day's play, so this is most certainly a frontrunner's track. The first seven winners, and nine of the 11 to date, all opened-up with a round of 68 or better and they were all inside the top-six places after day one.
The last two winners sat second at halfway and four of the first five winners here were in front at halfway. Robert Karlsson, who beat Ian Poulter in a play-off in 2010, is the only winner not to be sitting inside the top-eight at halfway or first or second with a round to go but bizarrely, he's still the only first round leader to go on to win. He'd dropped back into a tie for 12th after a second round 75 before rallying with back-to-back 67s over the weekend to catch Poulter.
As this tournament decides the Race to Dubai, 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 four years ago, 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 latter 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? With only 60 in the field, the spread isn't massive, but it's food for thought.
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 with strategic placed fairway bunkers 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 five 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 but Rory drained his bogey putt from around 30 feet and from that moment on there was only ever going to be one winner. The 2016 renewal 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.
Justin Rose was matched at just 1.434/9 before he lost his way badly on the back-nine to finish tied fourth in 2017 and there were all sorts of shenanigans last year from day one onwards...
Pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, was matched at a low of 1.9520/21 during the first round and big outsider, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, a pre-event 160.0159/1 chance, was matched at 2.01/1 during the second round when he led the event by six strokes but Rahm was always lurking.
The Spaniard drew alongside Lorenzo-Vera with a round to go and he started the fourth round like a man possessed, recording birdies at five of the first seven holes. It was his turn to lead by six and he was matched at just 1.031/33 but even for the very best players on the planet, winning is never easy and what looked like being a rather dull affair, turned into quite a fascinating finale. Rahm played his next eight holes in two-over par, Lorenzo-Vera rallied, and Tommy Fleetwood put in a fabulous charge, birdying five of his last seven holes to draw alongside Rahm, posting an 18-under-par tournament total.
Fleetwood was matched at a low of 3.3512/5 as he waited to see if Rahm would birdie the par five 18th to foil the Englishman's late rally and Lorenzo-Vera was still in with a shout given he trailed the pair by just a stroke but his chance was lost when he drove into the drink on 18. Rahm smashed his drive down the middle before finding the greenside bunker with his second and he was calmness personified as he got up-and-down for birdie and the win.
The Race to Dubai leader, Patrick Reed, heads the market and rightly so. He bounced back nicely from a very disappointing weekend at the US Open with a third-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth on his latest foray to the European Tour and he was a solid tied 10th in the US Masters last time out.
The 30-year-old Texan doesn't appear to bother much with the mundane these days and each of his last six wins have been big ones. In addition to winning the US Masters in 2018, he's won the prestigious Sentry Tournament of Champions, two FedEx Cup Playoff events and a couple of WGCs so I'm not surprised that this has been a target.
Reed is a regular at this event and givens he's one of the best putters on the planet when on song, and that he has course form figures reading 10-10-2-28, his chance is very obvious.
As detailed above, this one should already be on Tyrrell Hatton's CV. The world number 10 is a regular visitor but with form figures reading 6-13-2-8-22-46, he's been getting progressively worse since that near miss in 2016 although last year's 46th came immediately after he'd won the Turkish Airlines Open and we can probably ignore that performance.
He's now won three of his last 18 starts worldwide, including the aforementioned BMW at Wentworth and the Arnold Palmer Invitational - also on Bermuda greens - and he's the one I like best towards the head of the market. Whether he's a decent price at 13.012/1 when he drifted out to 20.019/1 before the off at Wentworth is debatable.
Fresh off his second PGA Tour win on Sunday, Viktor Hovland is a surprise entrant and one I'm happy to swerve at the price. Winning back-to-back is never easy and doing so on the other side of the world around a track you've never played before can only make it harder.
With course form figures reading 37-12-53-9-21-16-2, Tommy Fleetwood has a mixed bag of results here but he's a two- time winner of the Abu Dhabi Championship with top-seven finishes at both the Qatar Masters and the Dubai Desert Classic. He clearly enjoys desert golf but as he demonstrated at the Scottish Open back in October, he's not always the most straightforward in-contention and I'm happy to leave him out at the price.
The only other player trading at less than 20.019/1 is the US PGA Champion, Collin Morikawa, who's another slightly surprising entrant but like Hovland, he makes little appeal without any prior experience of the venue.
I found this a strange event to get to grips with. It tends to go to a fancied runner but the absence of multiple winners, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, leave quite a hole. I may yet back Hatton if he drifts before the off but the only one I really like at the prices is Austria's Bernd Wiesberger at a juicy 32.031/1.
It's going to be very interesting to see whether last week's Golf in Dubai Championship will be staged again and whether it will prove to be a good warm-up event for this one. I suspect the answer may be yes to both and if that's the case, Wiesberger's eighth was very encouraging given his slow start...
Having finished fourth in the RSM Classic in his penultimate outing, after a slow start following a disappointing weekend at Augusta the week before, Bernd again took his time to get into gear at last week's event, opening up with a pedestrian two-under-par 70 when Andy Sullivan had set the pace with an 11-under 61.
With course figures reading 42-34-16-17-4-45-28, the Austrian has only fair form here but following three European Tour wins last season, he led the R2D 12 months ago so last year's poor performance, when he played with plenty of pressure, can be forgiven.
He's putted really nicely in each of his last two starts (both on Bermuda greens) so if he can get off to a decent start on Thursday, odds in excess of 30.029/1 are going to look huge given he's reasonably prolific and in form.
At a much bigger price, I'm happy to throw a few pounds in the direction of last week's winner, Antoine Rozner. He's long off the tee and he's clearly demonstrated a liking for desert golf. Winning back-to-back is tough but Christiaan Bezuidenhout has just won in consecutive weeks in South Africa and it's interesting to see that Rozner's done it before too.
The Frenchman hacked up by seven strokes at the Prague Golf Challenge in May last year, just one week after winning his first Challenge Tour event at the Challenge de Espana. He'll be running free after Saturday's success around the Fire Course and he could be dangerous.
I've also got a couple of others I like at much bigger prices, so I'll be back with those shortly with the Find Me a 100 Winner column.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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