DP World Tour Championship: Morikawa's the man to trust in Dubai

The Earth Course in Dubai
The Earth Course in Dubai

The European Tour draws to a close this week with the DP World Tour Championship so our man's here with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start...

"The manner of Morikawa's victory at Royal St George’s in the summer was reminiscent of Tiger Woods in his pomp and if he and Rory are toe-to-toe over the weekend, Morikawa’s the man I want to side with."

Tournament History

A week before the 2022 schedule kicks off in South Africa (now rebranded as the DP World Tour) the 2021 European Tour season draws to a close with the now traditional curtain closer - the DP World Tour Championship.

First staged 12 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 Rolex Series and it determines who wins the R2D.

It's a limited field event for the top-50 available in the standings. James Morrison is the last man in at the time of writing thanks to the disappointing absence of former two-time winner, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Justin Rose.

In addition to the official qualifiers, both Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed have been granted special exemptions, despite failing to meet the minimum criteria of playing in four European Tour events, and although their inclusion has no bearing on him missing out, I suspect the man in 55th on the standings, ET stalwart and desert golf specialist, Andy Sullivan, who is immediately below Morrison in the standings, is delighted for them both.

It's a strange decision, especially with Rahm, Hovland and Rose not turning up, and it's a slap in the face to guys like Sullivan.


The Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE

Par 72, 7,675 yards
Stroke index in 2020 - 70.95

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, the 14th and last three holes.

EARTH COURSE 2020 1.jpg

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 fourth easiest 12 months ago - averaging 4.84.

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Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Matthew Fitzpatrick -15 22.021/1
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 the long hitters prosper and that the 2018 champ, Danny Willett, and last year's victor, Matthew Fitzpatrick, are the only winners to rank outside the top-eight for Driving Distance. Neither man could be described as especially short though. Somewhat strangely, Fitzpatrick ranked 16th for DD last year, as he did in 2016 when he won here for the first time, and so too did Willett in 2018.

Jon Rahm ranked only eighth in 2019 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.

Fitzpatrick played the long holes in eight-under-par last year, and the runner-up, Westwood, ranked first for Par Five Scoring on -9. Making hay on the long holes is clearly important and the first and second in 2019 also ranked first and second on the par fives.

Rory McIlroy only ranked tied for 36th for DA when he won the title for a second time six years ago and when Alvaro Quiros won here in 2011, with only 60 players in the line-up, he ranked 55th for D.A but it's starting to look a bit more important of late as the course has matured...

Fitzpatrick topped the Driving Accuracy stats last year, Rahm ranked eighth in 2019, Willet 12th in 2018 and when he won here for the first time, Fitzpatrick ranked second for DA in 2016.

Nobody hit more greens than Rahm in 2019 and as many as seven of the 12 winners to date have ranked inside the top-four for Greens In Regulation. The first six home ranked seventh, sixth, second, 44th, first and 26th for GIR last year 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 in 2016 and McIlroy only ranked 47th in 2012.

The 2014 renewal produced some very strange putting stats but that 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 fifth and second for Putting Average last year and the last six winners have ranked fifth, first, first, third, second and fourth.

It looks like a fairly straightforward formula for success here - give it a good, straight 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. The two-time winner, Jon Rahm has form in the States in the desert (he finished fifth in Phoenix in his second start on the PGA Tour) and he won the 2018 edition of the Desert Classic in the Californian desert but the two events to really concentrate on are two the Spaniard is yet to play - the Dubai Desert Classic and the Qatar Masters.

As many as four of the eight 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.

The 2012 DDC winner, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, traded at just 1.4840/85 in this event seven years ago before throwing the tournament away at the 16th hole and the English due, Andy Sullivan and Matt Wallace, have finished runner-up in both events.

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 Cabrera-Bello, who was also runner-up in Qatar four years ago.

Last week's 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 there last year and Sullivan was fourth there again on Sunday so it's a perfect warm-up event for this event.

And finally, Fitzpatrick was the fourth man to win the DP World Tour Championship twice in a span of just nine 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 three 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 ten years not to have won an event somewhere earlier in the season. Fitzpatrick hadn't won for two years when he claimed the title for a second time last year and Stenson, in 2014, is the only other to win here without lifting a trophy earlier in the season but he was the defending champion.

All the winners have been top-class players and Fitzpatrick, in 2016, and Willett two years later, are the only two to be matched at a triple-figure price before the off. The 2011 winner, Quiros, who was matched at odds of 44.043/1, is the only other remotely big priced winner of the event.

Rahm was generally an 8.07/1 shot in 2019 and Rory and Stenson, who have both also won the event twice, were trading at single-figure prices when they won on both occasions so the tournament has a history of going to the fancied players.

Previous Rolex Series winners command respect

As this is the final Rolex Series event the season, I've listed all the previous series winners to date below. The Scottish Open apart, which is a bit of an outsiders event, they tend to go to fancied players.

Billy Horschel wins at Wentworth.jpg

It was no surprise to see last year's Wentworth winner, Tyrrell Hatton, come up trumps in Abu Dhabi this year and as many as nine of the last 14 Rolex Series events have been won by someone who had won at least one previously. And that could easily have been ten. Matt Fitzpatrick won this event for the first time in 2016 just before the Rolex Series began.

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
DP World Championship 2019 - Matthew Fitzpatrick 22.021/1
Abu Dhabi Championship 2021 - Tyrrell Hatton 14.5 4/4
Scottish Open 2021 - Min Woo Lee 330.0329/1
BMW PGA Championship 2021 - Billy Horschel 36.035/1

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Matthew Fitzpatrick - tied for the lead 5.24/1
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

In-Play Tactics

After an opening 69, Rahm sat four off the lead and tied for 16th when he won here for the first time four years ago but that's the furthest any winner has trailed by after the opening round.

Fitzpatrick was inside the top-two places all week long last year and the last three winners have been inside the top three places all week.

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 ten of the 12 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 three 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.

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 strategically 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 six 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 in 2019 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 his 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.

Market Leaders

Rory McIlroy arrives in Dubai fresh off a win in the Nevada desert at the CJ Cup on the PGA Tour and he has course form figures here reading 3-5-11-1-5-2-1-9-20-4 so it's almost inconceivable that he won't contend.

The Irishman is a perfectly fair price on the exchange at 7.413/2 and given he's been placed at least in seven of his ten previous visits, even at 5/1 he's a very solid looking each-way bet with seven places available.

The Open Champion, Collin Morikawa, heads the Race to Dubai standings and as the article in the tweet below outlines, he could finish last this week and still top the standings but I fancy him to perform considerably better than that.

Morikawa simply left himself too much to do after a slow start last month when finishing runner-up to Rory in Nevada but if he starts nicely this week he's the one to beat. He's clearly suited to the venue and having finished 10th on debut last year he can kick on and win this year.

His slight lack of length is a minor concern but as highlighted above, accuracy from the tee is more important here of late and few hit it straighter than Collin off the tee.

Like Rory, Matthew Fitzpatrick is looking to win the event for a third time and he'll be buoyed by his victory at Valderrama last month in the Andalucía Masters but since then he's finished 30th in the Bermuda Championship and 64th at the World Technology Championship in Mexico so there's a slight chance he's gone off the boil.

Fitzpatrick has form figures here reading 4-1-12-34-9-1 so he's a little more in-and-out here than Rory and I'd have wanted a big bigger than the 18.017/1 he trades at.


Collin Morikawa is a perfectly fair price at 10.09/1. He's still only 24 and yet he's won two majors and a WGC event in incredible fashion. Adding a DP World Tour Championship and a Race to Dubai title to his name won't faze him one iota.

The manner of his victory at Royal St George's in the summer was reminiscent of Tiger Woods in his pomp and if he and Rory are toe-to-toe over the weekend, Morikawa's the man I want to side with.

My only other pick is Danny Willett who looks over-priced at 70.069/1 given the ridiculous record of former winners. He won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship only last month and he may even benefit from missing the cut at the Houston Open last week where conditions were really tough.

Willett wins at St Andrews.jpg

Collin Morikawa @ 10.09/1
Danny Willett @ 70.069/1

I'll be back later today with my RSM Classic preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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