The European Tour takes a short hop across the UAE from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for the Dubai Desert Classic so read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli is playing here for the first time but he’s another big hitter with decent GIR figures and he too caught the eye last week. He drifted away on Sunday to eventually finish 19th but he was in with a squeak with a round to go and he’s rapidly improving. He won twice on the European Tour last year and I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if he won again soon."
The Dubai Desert Classic has 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 29th edition.
The DDC is one of the Tour's premium events and with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson in attendance again, we're all set for another cracking renewal.
Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, UAE
Par 72, 7,328 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 72.2
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 easier nine - although the par four 12th hole was the hardest on the course again last year.
Water is in play on ten holes. The front nine last year averaged 35.68 and the back nine 36.52 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 the wind is often a factor so some years there can be quite a pronounced draw bias. That was definitely the case last year with those being drawn in the morning on Thursday enjoying an average advantage of 3.48 strokes over the first two rounds.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - beginning at 04:00 (UK and Ireland time) on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2017 - Sergio Garcia -19
2016 - Danny Willett -19
2015 - Rory McIlroy -22
2014 - Stephen Gallacher -16
2013 - Stephen Gallacher -22
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. Sergio Garcia ranked fourth for DD 12 months ago, Danny Willett ranked 10th in 2016 and nobody hit it further than the winner, Rory McIlroy, in 2015.
Everyone in the top-ten last year ranked inside the top-30 for DD and prior to Willett's win, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who ranked 25th in 2010, and Rafael Cabrera-Bello, 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. Garcia ranked fourth for Driving Accuracy and the runner-up, Henrik Stenson, ranked first but that was unusual. DA is almost an irrelevant stat, with no other winner ever ranking any better than 15th for fairways found and the last seven winners before Sergio had an average DA ranking of 43.7!
Willett ranked 38th in 2016, Rory 68th in 2015, Stephen Gallacher ranked 52nd four years ago, and Alvaro Quiros ranked just 55th when he won in 2011.
Willett was slightly unusual in 2016, 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 and Garcia restored normality last year by topping the GIR stats. Nine of the last 12 winners have ranked inside the top-five for GIR.
Is There an Angle In?
Last year's winner, Garcia, has never played the Portugal Masters and the 2015 winner, Rory, only ever played the event once, finishing tied for 30th in 2009, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that's a tournament that correlates nicely with this one.
The 2016 winner, Danny Willett, finished inside the top-seven there three times in just five appearances and the three men to win this event before Rory 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 2016 runner-up, has finished second there, Andy Sullivan, who finished alongside Cabrera-Bello two years has finished first and second at 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, finished seventh and fifth here in 2013 and 2015.
The Qatar Masters is a great guide too. Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson, Thomas Bjorn, and the two Spaniards, Quiros and Garcia, have all won both events.
Links exponents fair really well here. Garcia has come very close to winning an Open on a couple of occasions and six of the last 11 players to win this title have also won an Open Championship. The two-time winner, Gallagher (2013 and 2014), hasn't won an Open but he's only won one other event in his lengthy career - the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship - and the 2012 champ, Cabrera-Bello, can't be described as prolific either but he claimed his third European Tour last year in the Scottish Open at the Dundonald Links.
The course is fairly wind-exposed and it tends to get faster and harder as the week wares on which explains why links exponents do so well here.
It's extremely early to make any firm predictions but looking at the early forecasts we look set for a benign week up until Sunday when the wind picks up a little.
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 hole 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 rounds one and round two and that's the furthest any winner has trailed by a country mile...
Garcia won wire-to-wire here 12 months ago and he was the sixth player to do so wire-to-wire. Being up with the pace is the place to be here and Sergio was the 18th third round leader to convert in 28 editions.
In the last 20 years, Willett, who trailed by four in 2016, Mark O'Meara, who was six adrift in 2004 and Quiros, who trailed by eight in 2011, are the only winners that weren't within three of the lead after round one. And up until four years ago, Robert-Jan Derksen, the shock 2003 champ, had been the only other winner, bar O'Meara and Quiros, 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 26 were all inside the top-six places. This is not a place to try and play catch-up.
The weather forecasts must be considered here. There ended up being a difference on average of 3.48 strokes between those drawn AM-PM and those drawn PM-AM over the first two rounds last year but that doesn't tell the whole story. Those drawn on the wrong side felt hard-done by, they were battle weary by halfway, and none of them were able to find the required fight to mount a challenge. The two-time winner, Gallacher, who was beaten by nine strokes in tied ninth, was the only player in the top-ten that played on Thursday afternoon. The draw can be crucial here so keep an eye on the weather.
It took a young Rory McIlroy a little while to take to the Emirates. He missed two of his first three cuts here and he finished only 52nd on his second appearance in 2007 but everything clicked in 2009, and this was where he won his first title.
Since that maiden victory he's produced course form figures reading 6-10-5-9-1-6 and he's very much the worthy favourite after last week's encouraging third in Abu Dhabi in his first start for three months.
Rory has exactly the right game for the venue and he appears to be in form. He's almost certain to contend and all punters need to do is decide whether the price is too short for them or not because it isn't incorrect.
Sergio Garcia is attempting to defend the title and win back-to-back after victory in Singapore on Sunday. He's never managed to successfully defend a title and he's only ever won two tournaments in-a-row and that occurred in his homeland, where he nearly always plays well. Those two facts are enough to put me off the US Masters champ, but they're aren't the only negatives. Prior to last year's win, in eight previous visits to the Emirates, he'd failed to break in to the top-ten and he'd missed the cut twice.
Tommy Fleetwood was extremely impressive in Abu Dhabi on Sunday but it was an intense week and I'd be surprised if he can lift himself enough to produce the goods again this week. He was more than twice the price he is here last week as the defending champion so anyone missing the wedding should perhaps swerve the funeral, especially given his course form figures read a very ordinary 57-10-MC-47-50-MC.
Henrik Stenson caught the eye on Sunday given he was the only man to match Fleetwood's seven-under-par 65 and the 2007 DDC winner has a further six top-eight finishes here, including second 12 months ago, but what concerns me is his Driving Distance stats which have fallen off a cliff of late. He's hitting plenty of greens but is he going to be far enough down the fairways to contend? In his eight starts since June last year, the best he's ranked for DD is 43rd.
Alex Levy's course form figures aren't spectacular, reading 67-29-40-49, but he a big hitter and he finds plenty of greens. He won the weather-shortened 2014 edition of the Portugal Masters, so that's another box ticked and after his eye-catching seventh in Abu Dhabi, I thought he was worth chancing.
South Africa's Dylan Frittelli is playing here for the first time but he's another big hitter with decent GIR figures and he too caught the eye last week. He drifted away on Sunday to eventually finish 19th but he was in with a squeak with a round to go and he's rapidly improving. He won twice on the European Tour last year and I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised if he won again soon.
Dean Burmester is another long hitter off the tee and even though his GIR stats aren't fabulous, having backed him last week at a big price, I thought he was worth another try. When he did get his irons dialled in, at the DP World Championship in November, he gave himself a chance to win and he'd have fared much better than his eventual finishing position of 40th last week had he not lost interest on Sunday or made an eight on the par three 12th on Friday.
Qatar Masters winner, Jeunghun Wang, recorded just one bogey all week when finishing 15th in Abu Dhabi last week and while I'm not entirely convinced he's long enough to figure he's too good a desert golfer not to get onside at a big price.
And finally, I've backed the equally ridiculous long and inconsistent pair of Lucas Bjerregaard and Haydn Porteous, who were both too big at [400.0]. Bjerregaard has poor course form figures reading MC-45-MC but he dotted up in Portugal and Porteous has twice won on the European Tour and he was eighth here on debut in 2016 before missing the cut last year.
I'll be back later today or tomorrow morning with the Framers Insurance Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter