We have two European Tour events to look forward to this week and the first one, in Dubai, kicks off on Wednesday so read Steve Rawlings' preview ahead of the early start here...
"It’s going to be an out-and-out birdie-fest and we may even see the European Tour’s second sub-60."
The Golf in Dubai Championship is a brand-new tournament that's been introduced to the European Tour to give anyone that's qualified for next week's Race to Dubai finale, the DP World Tour Championship, an opportunity to acclimatise in Dubai.
There's a healthy prize fund of $1.2m but that isn't close to next week's almighty pot of $8m.
The European Tour is also staging the South African Open at the Gary Player Country Club this week so this tournament is being staged from Wednesday to Saturday to avoid the two final rounds being on the same day. The South African Open runs from Thursday to Sunday.
The Fire Course, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Dubai, UAE
Par 72, 7,480 yards
Like next week's venue at the Jumeirah Golf Estates, the Earth Course, the Fire Course was also designed by Greg Norman.
Having opened in 2010, the Fire Course is easier than the Earth Course with fairways that are easier to find and greens that aren't quite so racy.
Although there are plenty of elevation changes, especially off the tee, the Fire Course has a more linksy feel to it that the Earth Course.
It's a traditional par 72 layout with four par threes and four par fives, two of which will be reachable by most of the field. A number of the par fours are fairly short and looks like a track that the pros are going to devour with relish.
It should provide a perfect warm-up for next week's trickier test around the Earth Course.
Live on Sky all four days, beginning at 8:00 on Wednesday. The final round is on Saturday and the live coverage begins at 6:30.
What Will it Take to Win the Golf in Dubai Championship?
We've seen winning scores at the DP World Tour Championship at the neighbouring Earth Course ranging from -14 to -25, with the last five winning totals ranging between -17 and -21. Given this course has a handicap rating of 110 compared to the Earth's tougher 140, and that there's no wind to speak of in the forecast, we're are going to witness some ultra-low scores this week. It's going to be an out-and-out birdie-fest and we may even see the European Tour's second sub-60.
The Fire isn't as long as the Earth Course so I don't expect length off the tee to be as important as it is in the DP World Tour Championship but we can expect to look back on the week and see that the winner hit lots of greens and that they made more than their fair share of putts.
The problem with low-scoring events like this is that it's almost impossible to predict who's going to get hot with the putter so it's best to concentrate on those that we know will give themselves plenty of chances. Hitting lots of greens in order to set up birdie chances will be key so the Strokes Gained Approach figures here are fair place to start.
Is There an Angle In?
Form at other desert venues is going to worth considering so look at the past results for next week's event - the DP World Championship, as well as the Dubai Desert Classic, the Saudi International and also the Qatar Masters.
Links form is also well worth considering as many fine links exponents prove equally adept at desert golf. Events to study are the Scottish Open over the last nine years, the 2009, 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019 editions of the Irish Open, last year's British Masters from Hillside Links, the Open Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
I haven't been able to find as much out about the venue as I'd have liked but someone that plays there regularly told me that the greens are very grainy and putting in the afternoon is more complex so an early start on day one might be advantageous. The course will be at it's absolute best on Wednesday morning so that will be the best time to score.
As highlighted above, links and desert golf are quite similar in many respects and whether in the desert or at a seaside links, a fast start is often hugely beneficial. Making up ground at any tournament staged at a links venue or at a desert track is tough and especially so if the weather is benign. When the scoring is low, as I suspect it will be this week, it's almost impossible to make up lost ground without help from the weather.
In blustery conditions, when the scoring isn't as low, one or two players will somehow construct a decent score and make giant strides up the leaderboard but when the course is defenceless and most of the field is making birdies, it's extremely hard to catch those that got off to a fast start. Concentrating on the early leaders, whether to create a position to trade, or to try and snare the winner and leave the position alone, looks the way to go.
It's not a big surprise to see Robert McIntyre at the head of the market given the rich vein of form he's in. He claimed his first European Tour title at the Cyprus Showdown in his penultimate start, one week after finishing third in the Cyprus Open and after a short break and a slow start, he putted brilliantly at Leopard Creek last week to finish a never-nearer tied for sixth in the Alfred Dunhill Championship. He's a fabulous links player and he was eighth in the Dubai Desert Classic back in January so the course should suit him too.
Bernd Wiesberger's 2020 isn't anywhere near as good as his 2019 but that's hardly surprising given he won three times last year. He's been in the doldrums for much of this year and his tied fifth behind Rasmus Højgaard in the UK Championship at the end of August is his best effort to date on the European Tour but he was a big eyecatcher on the PGA Tour two weeks ago when he finished fourth in the RSM Classic.
He's a winner of the Scottish Open (last year) on a links track and he has bits and pieces of from in the desert so his lofty position in the market is totally understandable.
Martin Kaymer has been playing well for much of 2020 and he's a multiple winner in the region, as well as a winner of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. He tops the Strokes Gained Approach stats but he has plenty of demons to exorcise. Kaymer hasn't won since he picked up his second major title, the 2014 US open and he hasn't been the same player in-the-mix since he blew a ten-stroke lead in round four of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in 2015 - an event he was looking to win for a fourth time.
The 35-year-old German has twice looked like winning this summer, but blew it on both occasions, at the UK Championship and the Andalucía Masters, where he traded at 1.341/3 and 1.271/4 in-running.
This isn't an especially deep field and Andy Sullivan looks reasonably priced at 29.028/1. He relishes a low-scoring birdie-fest, as he demonstrated back in August when he won the English Championship in 27-under-par, and he has form at links venues and in the desert. He's been a bit disappointing in his last two starts - finishing down the filed in the Cyprus Open after a reasonable start and missing the cut at the aforementioned RSM Classic last time out - but if he plays like he did at Wentworth three starts ago, when he finished third, he's sure to contend.
I've been told that the Italian pair, Renato Paratore and Guido Migliozzi, have been playing here a lot of late and I'm more than happy to chance the latter. He's a bit inconsistent but he knows how to win and if the putter gets hot, he's capable of low numbers. I thought 95.094/1 was more than fair.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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