The European Tour returns to Dubai this week for the third and final leg of the Desert Swing. Read Steve's comprehensive preview of the high-class Dubai Desert Classic here...
“Jeunghun Wang is making his course debut this week but that didn’t stop him in Qatar and although it’s notoriously difficult to win back-to-back, Wang did exactly that last year when he followed up his maiden win in Morocco with victory in windswept Mauritius.”
The Dubai Desert Classic is the third and final leg of the European Tour's Desert Swing and it's been in existence since 1989 when England's Mark James beat Australia's Peter O'Malley in a playoff. No tournament was staged in 1991 so this will be the 28th edition.
The DDC is one of the Tour's premium events and while we don't have two-time winner Rory McIlroy in the field this time around, Tiger Woods, who won the event in 2006 and 2008, is in the line-up.
Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, UAE
Par 72, 7,301 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 71.1
The Majlis course, designed by Karl Litten and opened in 1988, with the exception of the 1999 and 2000 renewals, has hosted the event since its inception. The fairways are fairly generous and the rough isn't often brutal.
The greens are of average size and they're usually set at a fairly pacey 12 on the stimpmeter. The whole course is laid to Bermuda grass.
The front nine ends with three tough holes in four - the 6th, 8th and 9th, which are all strong par fours - so with three par fives (the 10th, 13th and 18th), the back nine is the scoring nine. Water is in play on ten holes. The front nine last year averaged 35.15 and the back nine 35.95 but with the three par fives, the back nine's par equals 37. The front nine equates to 35.
It's a typically exposed desert track and like last week's venue, Doha GC in Qatar, the wind is often a factor. And having looked at the forecast, we look set for plenty of wind again this time around.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 4:00 on Thursday morning in the UK.
Last Five Winners
2016 - Danny Willett -19
2015 - Rory McIlroy -22
2014 - Stephen Gallacher -16
2013 - Stephen Gallacher -22
2012 - Rafael Cabrera-Bello -18
What Will it Take to Win the Dubai Desert Classic?
Mark O'Meara won this title in 2004 ranking just 96th for Driving Distance but being long off the tee has been key ever since. Danny Willett became the latest winner to rank inside the top-ten for DD 12 months ago and nobody hit it further than the winner, Rory McIlroy, in 2015. Prior to Willet's win, when ranking 10th, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who ranked 25th in 2010, and Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who ranked 17th two years later, were the only two winners to rank outside the top-five for DD since O'Meara's victory.
Hitting it long off the tee looks imperative now but you don't have to hit it especially straight. Driving Accuracy is almost an irrelevant stat, with no winner ever ranking any better than 15th for fairways found and the last seven winners have an average DA ranking of 43.7!
Willett ranked 38th 12 months ago, Rory 68th in 2015, Stephen Gallacher ranked 52nd three years ago, and Alvaro Quiros ranked just 55th when he won in 2011.
Willett was slightly unusual in that he only ranked 19th for Greens In Regulation but Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Andy Sullivan, who finished tied for second ranked first and fourth for GIR. Rory ranked fifth for Greens In Regulation 12 months earlier and that's pretty typical with eight of the last 11 winners all ranking inside the top-five for GIR.
Is There an Angle In?
Last year's winner, Willett, has finished inside the top-seven three times in just five appearances at the Portugal Masters and that looks like an event that correlates rather nicely.
The 2015 winner, Rory, only ever played the Portugal Masters once, finishing tied for 30th in 2009, but the three men to win this event before him all have a top-three finish there.
Stephen Gallacher, the winner here in 2013 and 2014, has finished third at Oceânico Victoria, Cabrera-Bello, the 2012 winner and last year's runner-up, has finished second there, Sullivan, who finished alongside Cabrera-Bello has finished first and second at the last two renewals of the Portugal Masters and two DDC winners, Alvaro Quiros (2011) and Richard Green (1997), have both won there. England's Lee Westwood, the 2009 winner of the Portugal Masters, has a great record here (really should have won the 2010 edition) and the inaugural winner in Portugal, journeyman pro Steve Webster, has finished inside the top-seven here twice in the last four years.
Playing last week in Qatar appears a significant plus as well. The last two winners didn't play in the Qatar Masters but in the previous ten years, Tiger Woods was the only winner of this event not to have warmed up in Qatar.
As was the case with last week's event in Qatar, links exponents fair well here and six of the last ten players to win this title have also won an Open Championship.
Having looked at the early forecasts, we need to be running the rule over the very best wind players. Sunday doesn't look too bad but we look set for breezy conditions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
This isn't an old event by any means but we've already had four players win the event at least twice and others have come very close to doubling up. Course form stands up really well here and I'd think carefully about backing someone that hasn't shown something here previously.
Alvaro Quiros' victory here in 2011 was remarkable for a number of reasons. He made three eagles, including a two on the par four second hole and a hole-in-one during the final round and he also made a pair of triple-bogeys, one on day one, at the par five 10th, and one at the eighth on day four. But the most remarkable thing about his win was how far off the pace he had been before winning. He trailed by eight strokes after both round one and round two and that's the furthest any winner has trailed by a country mile...
Willett sat second at halfway last year, just a stroke off the lead, and he was the 17th third round leader to convert in 27 years but even though he started quite well, to trail by four after round one, he was a relatively slow starter compared to the majority of winners here.
In the last 19 years, Mark O'Meara in 2004, who was six back after round one, is the only winner other than Willett and Quiros, to be further than three back after day one and up until three years ago, Robert-Jan Derksen, the shock 2003 champ, had been the only other winner, bar O'Meara, to be more than two back at halfway this century. Gallacher changed that in 2014 when he slipped from third to sixth and from three back to four back between rounds one and two but up with the pace is clearly where you need to be.
Quiros and Derksen are the only winners of the event to be outside the top-ten at halfway and the other 25 were all inside the top-six. This is not a place to try and play catch-up.
It's very early to place too much faith in the forecasts but an early start on Thursday may prove hugely beneficial with the forecast suggesting a breezy afternoon.
Desert golf specialist, reigning Open Champ and world number four, Henrik Stenson, is attempting to double-up here ten years after he first took the title but on the evidence of his performance at the Abu Dhabi Championship a fortnight ago, he looks one to swerve.
He started brilliantly with an opening round of 64 and he was matched at just 2.166/5 as he stood over a short birdie putt at the par five second but he lost his way after missing that before eventually rallying to finish tied for eighth. He's an ever-present here after that victory in '07 and his form figures since read 6-3-8-MC-20-26-39-13-6.
The 2012 winner, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, has both course and current form and I wouldn't put anyone off playing him in the top-ten or even top-five markets but he's one to swerve in the win market given how seldom he wins.
Sergio Garcia has appeared here in alternate years of late, having not played in an even year renewal since he finished 19th in 2008. His course form figures since then read an uninspiring 11-20-17-MC and his only start since November was a somewhat disappointing 11th in Singapore a fortnight ago. He's another towards the head of the market that I'm not remotely interested in backing.
Tyrrell Hatton was desperately disappointing when finishing 13th in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, given he led the field going in to round four, and for the umpteenth time, Bernd Wiesberger again looks too short to play. He has reasonable form here (MC-24-60-9-4-16) but he didn't play well enough last week to justify his cramped looking odds.
Given how strongly the stats suggest you that you need to be up with the pace here, and how important the draw might be given the weather forecast, I'm loath to get too involved before the off but I will play last week's winner, Jeunghun Wang, at odds in excess of 30.029/1.
The Korean is making his course debut this week but that didn't stop him in Qatar and although it's notoriously difficult to win back-to-back, Wang did exactly that last year when he followed up his maiden win in Morocco with victory in windswept Mauritius.
Jeunghun Wang @ 30.029/1 or above
I'll be back late tonight or more likely tomorrow with my Waste Management Phoenix Open preview.
For our Dubai Desert Classic Form Guide then please click on the link.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter