The test this week is pretty much as we were from Abu Dhabi last week. They are on another desert course, this time the Majlis course at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai. This is the oldest Middle East tournament on the European Tour having been running since 1989 with every edition bar 1999 and 2000 having been held at this course.
Just like last week the fairways are lined with trees and sandy wastelands but the landing areas are a little wider again in Dubai and the bombers will have more leeway off the tee than last week. The course is also a little shorter than last week at around 7300 yards but the challenge will yet again be on approach shots and the list of winners here is a list of some of the best ball-strikers we have seen in the last 25 years. In fact of the 28 events to date, 8 of those have been won by Masters winners and bizarrely the last two winners, Garcia and Willett, went on to wear the green jacket two months after their success in Dubai. The nature of the courses aren’t too similar but we do know that it helps to be able to get the ball out there off the tee at both courses and they also both reward elite ball-striking with their slick greens difficult to hold.
This isn’t a week for debutants or outsiders as you have to go back to 2003 and Robert Jan-Derksen to find a proper shock winner. Course form stacks up very will indeed and two-time winner Steven Gallacher has made the bulk of his career winnings at the course. His other win was at the Alfred Dunhill Links in Scotland and we spoke in detail last week about how similar a test desert golf is to links golf.
To summarise we are looking for a longish hitter whose irons have been dialled in and has form at both the course, the desert in general and preferably some links courses.
I found it difficult to avoid the head of the market last week but went with the value option with Matt Kuchar, despite how obvious the likes of McIlroy and Fleetwood were. I’m not making the same mistake again this week and I’ve decided to go with two young English desert lovers who already have a very strong bank of Dubai form despite only being 23 and 26 yrs old respectively. I took the same tactic into the DP World Championship to no returns but I’m sticking with Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton again here. The prices might not be fantastic at 20/1 and 25/1 but both have very solid each way claims.
Matt Fitzpatrick has already won in Dubai at the expense of his countryman Hatton at the DP Tour Championship in 2016 and away from that he has three other Top 5s in his last 8 tournaments in Dubai. His form at the Emirates Golf Club is progressive and reads MC-45-5 and after finishing 3rd last week on a similar course he will be raring to go. That was his first outing of the season and with the test similar he should only need to find a few more greens this week to properly contend. At his best he is a very accurate tee-to-green player but his putting has improved out of sight. He was always capable of a good week with the short stick but he has found a consistency over the last 2 years particularly on grainier greens similar to the links greens he honed his game on as an amateur. Fitzpatrick isn’t the longest but he makes up for that with a very accurate long iron game so it doesn’t usually hold him back. Last week he ranked 3rd for total putting and should he bring that touch to Dubai then he will be a huge threat to everyone in the field, including McIlroy and Stenson.
Tyrrell Hatton has perhaps even better desert form than Fitzpatrick as he has racked up 11 Top 15s from just 14 starts in the Middle East. Hatton loves these pure greens and even he will struggle to blame the perfect carpets at the Emirates this week. I remember thinking last year just how shockingly he behaved while blaming the poor greens at Close House for every missed putt. But then the next two weeks he holed everything and won back to back on perfect greens. So he may have had a point! There are certainly very few players in the game that putt as well as Hatton given well maintained, fast greens and that makes him of interest again here where the greens are perfect and regularly reach 12 on the stimpmeter. He finished 15th last week and that was a fairly good effort to set him up for a proper crack at winning again this week. While 25/1 maybe looks a little short he has finished in the money 12 times in his last 45 events and won 3 of his last 33. While that is obviously only looking at the last couple of years, it is perfectly fair to think that this might be Hatton’s level going forward in which case we are actually getting some value on both the win and place terms.
Thorbjorn Olesen is a very hard player to get right given his ability to pop up and win from nowhere. So in order to try and work out if he is any value, we almost need to ignore his results where conditions don’t suit. But desert conditions suit the Dane perfectly and at 66/1 this week I thought he was just about worth a play given his brilliant record around the Emirates. Olesen was 3rd in 2013, 5th in 2014 and 8th in 2016. When he first broke on to the European Tour in 2011 he was expected to go right to the top of the game and despite winning fairly early on his career has stuttered a little. But it’s easy to forget that he has actually won 4 times already and he is still only 28 years old. With his friend Bjorn captaining the Ryder Cup this year Olesen will be desperate to at least get his name into the equation come August even if there are plenty ahead of him right now. Bjorn took him to Hazeltine as his buggy driver and Olesen knows he will be given a fair crack should he show some consistency in 2018. If that is to happen then will need to perform well at his favourite courses and this is an ideal starting point.
There were plenty of eyes on Conor Syme when he turned professional in the autumn and he very impressively finished inside the Top 20 on his first two starts. After that things went downhill a little with three poor performances but it’s worth noting just how impressive the first two events were. Justin Rose might be an extreme example given his early career struggles but he took 51 events to get two professional European Tour Top 20s and even the boy wonder Rory McIlroy needed three events. But the interesting thing for Syme this week is the two events that he managed those Top 20s in. His debut was a 12th at the Portugal Masters and the 15th was at the Alfred Dunhill Links. Both those events tie in very well with the Dubai Desert Classic as numerous players have done well in all 3. Performing on the other side of the world shouldn’t be a problem for him either as he won the Australian Amateur in 2016. The more adventurous punters might fancy the 500/1 that is being dangled by a few firms but I’m more interested in backing him for another top 20 at very nice odds of 16/1 with a few firms.
Matt Fitzpatrick – 1.5pts ew @ 20/1 (1/4 odds 5 places general)
Tyrrell Hatton – 1.5pts ew @ 25/1 (1/5 odds 6 places Sky Bet)
Thorbjorn Olesen – 0.5pts ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 6 places Sky Bet)
Conor Syme – 1pt Top 20 @ 16/1
Weekly pts advised – 8pts