Our man takes a good look at the Race to Dubai finale, the DP World Tour Championship, where he has a very strong fancy for Scotland's Paul Lawrie...
“Paul Lawrie ticks the boxes boldly here and at odds of anything over [40.0], I think he's a cracking bet.”
First known as the Dubai World Championship, the DP World Tour Championship was introduced to the schedule as the season ending money-list decider in 2009 when the European Tour was rebranded as the Race to Dubai.
In an ideal world, several players would be battling it out on the back-nine on Sunday to determine the Race to Dubai winner but the nearest we've had to such an exciting scenario was in year one, when Lee Westwood overtook Rory McIlroy to win with ease and we have the dampest of squibs this year, with Rory McIlroy so far clear on the money-list that he's already won it.
The field is restricted to the top-60 on the R2D only but with Retief Goosen, Ross Fisher and Thomas Bjorn all absent, a field of just 57 lines up on Thursday with neither of the last two winners (Alvaro Quiros and Robert Karlsson) amongst them.
The Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf estates, Dubai, UAE
Par 72, 7,675 yards
Stroke index in 2011 - 70.84
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. The greens run at 12' on the stimpmeter and are large and undulating, laid to Tifeagle Bermuda grass. Water is in-play on the 6th, 14th and last three holes. It's a stunning finish - the par 3 17th has an island green and the par 5th 18th offers up much drama, with water in play twice if you go for the green and three times if you lay-up, so scores there vary greatly.
Greg Norman has dubbed the final four holes as 'the most challenging mile in golf' but I'm not convinced. The four holes averaged a smidgen over par at 16.07 in 2009 but now that the players are getting used to the place the averages are coming down and at 15.89 in 2010 and 15.86 12 months ago, I think 'the most challenging mile in golf' is probably stretching it a tad.
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 8.00am.
First Three Winners
2009 - Lee Westwood - 23
2010 - Robert Karlsson - 14 (playoff)
2011 - Alvaro Quiros - 19
What will it take to win the DP World Tour Championship?
Length off the tee is a huge asset with the first three winners ranking 8th, 5th and 1st for Driving Distance. Last year's 1st and 2nd, Quiros and Paul Lawrie, ranked 55th and 54th for Driving Accuracy so despite an over-seeding exercise, because it's a new course and the rough hasn't had a chance to mature and thicken, being wayward isn't a huge handicap. To emphasise the point further, Quiros and Lawrie, with scores of -12 and -11, ranked 1st and 2nd on the Par 5s for the week. It's quite simple really, just whack it and don't worry too much about where it lands!
Robert Karlsson ranked 12th for Greens In Regulation, Quiros 5th and Westwood 1st, so accurate iron-play is important too but length is definitely the key. Being miles down the fairway (or in the rough) and taking shorter irons in, makes finding the greens, and even more importantly, finding the right sections of the large greens, is much easier for the bombers than it is for those that don't hit it miles.
You need to go low as it's basically a birdie-fest. Three of the first four home last year made 23 birdies and Luke Donald in third made 22.
Is there an identikit winner?
Look to players who perform well in the desert and the Qatar Masters is probably the best place to start. Quiros and Karlsson have both won that event and having given up a couple of good chances to do so, Lee Westwood should have.
All three winners have been in good form and surprisingly the strongest form guide to date is the Hong Kong Open at Fanling, a vastly different venue to this. Ian Poulter made the playoff here after winning in Hong Kong in 2010 and then last year, Quiros won after finishing tied 7th (having led through three rounds) and Peter Hanson finished 4th here, having finished 3rd at Fanling.
All three winners had won at least one title earlier in the year and the last two winners had done so in the desert.
Watch out for the closing holes, Peter Hanson held every chance until he messed up the 17th 12 months ago and as already highlighted, the last hole can give up anything from an eagle to a double bogey. Lay some off if your pick is in front; it's just not worth the stress.
Concentrate on the leaders from the start. Quiros sat in a tie for 5th after day one, four behind leader Hanson, Karlsson was leading after day one and Westwood sat second. It's a low-scoring event so making up ground is very difficult.
Rory McIlroy heads the market at a perfectly fair [7.4] and you can bet your bottom dollar he'll perform better than he did last week when he missed the cut in Hong Kong but if I had to pick one of the fancied runners it would be one of those challenging for second favouritism, Luke Donald.
Last year's R2D champ had this year's winner as his only challenger when they teed it up on day one and Donald made it slightly interesting when he opened up the event with a lacklustre 72. With McIlroy starting the event with 66, it looked as though the R2D title fight might get interesting after all but Donald soon got back in the grove and did well to climb up to third in the end.
He has progressive course form here and was a very comfortable winner in Japan on Sunday, at the Dunlop Phoenix. I do have reservations about his lack of length however and he's just a fraction short for me to take the plunge.
Louis Oosthuizen performs well in the desert and is also in fine form but he gets in his own way far too easily in the mix for my liking (including at this event last year) and he's no value at the same price as Donald. I backed him 12 months ago at [40.0], I can't take [11.5] this.
I was bullish about Branden Grace's chances in South Africa last week and he quite frankly made me look a fool so I really ought to curb my enthusiasm, but I can't. Paul Lawrie ticks the boxes boldly here and at odds of anything over [40.0], I think he's a cracking bet.
Let's take his course form for starters. On his only outing at the Earth Course he finished runner-up last year and that really should have been better. Lawrie does get nervous at times and when he hit the front early on in round two last year he surely did. Three birdies at his first four holes saw him go three clear of the field but it spooked him and after pars at 5, 6 and 7 he played the last ten holes in four over par, and that included two birdies!
He's already a winner twice this year and one of those wins came in Qatar - another thumbs up. And finally, he really caught the eye in Hong Kong last week. Another box firmly ticked.
Lawrie doesn't have a tremendous record at Fanling and his 8th place in 2000, when it was still an Asian Tour event, is still the highlight. He was tied for 46th there last year before his runner-up effort here so his tied 10th on Sunday is hugely encouraging.
Lawrie did me a nice favour at the Johnnie Walker Championship in August and I fancy he might just do so again here.
Given the strong record of front-runners, I'm going to concentrate on the in-running market after day one so other than Lawrie, stakes have been kept to a minimum but I have added a few big outsiders.
The Portugal Masters' venue, Oceanico Victoria Golf Course, offers up a similar test to this (Quiros and Westwood former winners there) and Bernd Wiesberger played very well there this year, and I felt he should have won, so he's been backed at [110.0].
Pablo Larrazabal gets another chance after his tied 8th in Hong Kong and I've had to back Miguel Angel Jimenez again at an insultingly big price. Expecting the oldest swinger in town to go back-to-back is a bit much but he has form here and he's a former winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He's been matched at as high as [170.0] and given how well he played last week, that's just crazy.
And finally, I've also backed Thongchai Jaidee, who also ticks the desert golf and current form boxes, and I've taken a very small chance on multiple tour winner Michael Hoey, who could be in better form than his figures suggest as when last seen out in Singapore he was feeling unwell.
I'll be back on Thursday afternoon with the In-Play Blog, at the conclusion of round one.