Dave Tindall

Across the Pond

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Dubai Desert Classic Preview

Monday, January 22, 2018

The European Tour stays in the United Arab Emirates for this week’s Dubai Desert Classic.


First things first. Make note of anyone who wins with 19-under-par. Why? The last two winners here, Danny Willet and Sergio Garcia, both shot 269 and went on to win the Masters three months later.


There’s no obvious reason why form at the flat Majlis course at Emirates GC should translate so well to success at undulating Augusta National and it may just be a case of victories here infusing high-quality players with an extra confidence for the first major of the year.


That said, launching it long has been a feature of past winners of this event, as has hitting plenty of greens.


Traditionally, this has been the third leg of the Desert Swing but it now comes straight after Abu Dhabi, with the Qatar Masters moving to a February date.


There must be a strong chance that those who shone in Abu Dhabi will do so again here as it’s a similar test. You’ll also find lots of strong links players thriving at this venue (flat and windy so makes sense), a correlation which Garcia enhanced last year.


He returns to defend the title, while Rory McIlroy goes for his third win in this event.



Last 10 Winners and Stats


2017 -19 Sergio Garcia (DD: 4, DA: 4, GIR: 1, Scr: 15, PA: 17, AA: 1)

2016 -19 Danny Willett (DD: 10, DA: 38, GIR: 19, Scr: 35, PA: 1, AA: 7)

2015 -22 Rory McIlroy (DD: 1, DA: 67, GIR: 5, Scr: 3, PA: 14, AA: 2)

2014 -16 Stephen Gallacher (DD: 5, DA: 52, GIR: 12, Scr: 65, PA: 5, AA: 13)

2013 -22 Stephen Gallacher (DD: 4, DA: 34, GIR: 12, Scr: 18, PA: 4, AA: 1)

2012 -18 Rafael Cabrera-Bello (DD: 17, DA: 28, GIR: 2, Scr: 5, PA: 23, AA: 2)

2011 -11 Alvaro Quiros (DD: 1, DA: 49, GIR: 15, Scr: 2, PA: 6, AA: 1)

2010 -11 Miguel Angel Jimenez (DD: 25, DA: 31, GIR: 4, Scr: 20, PA: 10, AA: 3)

2009 -19 Rory McIlroy (DD: 2, DA: 16, GIR: 2, Scr: 58, PA: 4, AA: 4)

2008 -14 Tiger Woods (DD: 2, DA: 39, GIR: 23, Scr: 15, PA: 2, AA: 1)



The Course


The ‘Majlis’ at Emirates GC was the first grass course in the Middle East and takes its name from the Arabic word for ‘meeting place’. Designed by Karl Litton, it has a storied list of previous winners and has held every edition since 1989 apart from 1999 and 2000. The par 72 measures 7,328 yards and three of the par 5s are on the back nine (10, 13 and 18). Water is in play on 10 holes, including the last, while the greens are Tiff Eagle Bermuda.



The Weather


Fierce gusts up to 35mph and heavy sandstorms caused havoc 12 months ago, with play suspended and three trees uprooted. This year it looks like we might get a repeat of Abu Dhabi – sun (around 80 degrees) and excellent scoring conditions over the first three days before the winds pick up to create a more testing Sunday.



The Leading Contenders


Rory McIlroy

If only the last three winners of this event had gone on to win the Masters soon after. Then 2015 champ Rory would have a Green Jacket too. It’s a very special place for two-time victor Rory as it was the scene of his very first European Tour win in 2009. He’s never finished outside the top 10 in six subsequent visits and last week’s T3 on comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship suggests he should be right up there again. These desert courses just suit him down to the ground.


Sergio Garcia

Surprisingly, Sergio had never managed a top 10 in seven previous tries in this event before winning last year. Then again, he did reel off four straight top 20s from 2008 to 2013 so wasn’t far off. He’ll return this year with the added swagger of being a major champion and also with an extra spring in his step brought on by very recent events after winning the Singapore Open by five shots on Sunday. A big defense is expected.


Tommy Fleetwood

A majestic winner in Abu Dhabi last week. When the going got tough and the wind blew on the final day, the defending champion really got going and his closing 65 featured an inward 30 when he took the tournament by the scruff of the neck. Here at the Emirates GC, Fleetwood was T10 in 2013 but hasn’t made the top 40 in five other starts, his latest effort resulting in an early exit at halfway last year. Dangerous to assess on him on old form, though, given his giant strides over the last year and a bit.


Henrik Stenson

There may have not been much pressure on him but Stenson’s final-round 65 to grab a share of eighth place in Abu Dhabi was the joint-low round of the day. “It’s probably the best that I’ve played since I won on the PGA TOUR in August last year,” said the Swede later and he’ll be confident of riding the wave this week. He won this event in 2007 and the latest of his six other top 10s came last year when finishing runner-up to Sergio.


Matt Fitzpatrick

The English youngster putted like a god at times in Abu Dhabi, shooting an outward 29 in round three and closing with a hat-trick of birdies on Sunday for T3 alongside Rory McIlroy. Fitzpatrick is also a previous winner of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai so he’s another big player in the United Arab Emirates. A fifth place on this course last year adds to his hot record in the desert.


Branden Grace

He’s a two-time winner of the Qatar Masters (being played next month) and has a couple of top fives in Abu Dhabi but this event has provided slim pickings for the South African. He’s pegged it up three times and has yet to crack the top 50. This is his first start in the event since 2015 and perhaps he’ll arrive here fresher given that he’s not had his swing blown around in Qatar due to the schedule change. Second place in the South African Open and T15 in Abu Dhabi last week (R2 64) shows he’s in fine form.


Tyrrell Hatton

He never really got in a blow at last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship but T15 was a decent week and represented an 11th top 15 finish in just 14 starts in the United Arab Emirates. Specifically at this venue, Hatton has got better each year – MC-55-8-3. He closed last year with 65-67 on the weekend and he’s a combined 28-under for the last two years in this event.


Rafa Cabrera-Bello

The Spaniard is another who comes with a strong reputation in the desert but his achievements in this event stand tallest. RCB won here in 2012 after opening with 63, was runner-up in 2016 and added T11 last year. He owns five top 20s in eight visits overall. He’ll need to clean a few things up from last week however after ending down in T40 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, finishing only 55th for GIR.


Ross Fisher

Golf can be a cruel game. Fisher has shot 21-under (Alfred Dunhill Links), and 20-under twice (Italian Open, last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship) in three of his last six starts and yet still remains without a win on the European Tour since 2014. Tommy Fleetwood’s brilliance was the latest cause of Fisher muttering ‘what do I have to do?’ but the ‘W’ is surely imminent and he has six top 20s at this venue so perhaps it’ll arrive sooner rather than later.


Thomas Pieters

For much of the week in Abu Dhabi, it looked as if Pieters would be the man on a course where he’d previously finished second and fourth. In the end, he had to settle for T5 after a closing bogey-6. Still, it represented a first top five since August’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and provided further evidence that he comes alive in elite fields. He’s not excelled here yet but T23 last year with all four rounds under par was his best effort so far and there’s so much more to come.

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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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