And so, after 47 tournaments across 27 countries, the 2016 European Tour season reaches its climax with this week’s DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
In theory, four players in the 60-man field can still win the Race to Dubai and be crowned European No. 1 although Henrik Stenson is very much in the driving seat.
A Noren win would mean Stenson has to finish second to deny his fellow Swede but a victory for Willett would give the Englishman the Race to Dubai so the Masters champ still controls his own destiny.
Race to Dubai standings
1st Henrik Stenson 4,000,563
2nd Danny Willett 3,700,888
3rd Alex Noren 3,367,126
4th Rory McIlroy 2,824,149
McIlroy and Stenson have won the last four editions of this event between them so dominate the betting market even more than they might have done already.
This is the eighth running of the DP World Tour Championship and, once more, the tournament is played at the Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Opened in 2009, the Greg Norman-designed Earth course is a par 72 measuring in at a lengthy 7,675 yards but yields lots of low scores. Four of the seven winners were better than 20-under. The rolling fairways are generous and the vast, contoured green complexes offer large targets to hit. They’re Tifeagle Bermuda grass and many have large ‘run-offs’, putting an emphasis on short-game recovery. Water is in play on Nos. 6, 14, 16, 17 (island green) and 18. Past form in the desert is always a help.
Past winners, winning scores and stats
2015 Rory McIlroy -21 (DD: 1, DA: 37, GIR: 4, Scr: 10, PA: 4, AA: 2)
2014 Henrik Stenson -16 (DD: 2, DA: 2, GIR: 4, Scr: 41, PA: 16, AA: 2)
2013 Henrik Stenson -25 (DD: 7, DA: 1, GIR: 1, Scr: 2, PA: 8, AA: 1)
2012 Rory McIlroy -23 (DD: 2, DA: 22, GIR: 47, Scr: 19, PA: 1, AA: 3)
2011 Alvaro Quiros -19 (DD: 1, DA: 55, GIR: 4, Scr: 47, PA: 7, AA: 12)
2010 Robert Karlsson -14 (DD: 5, DA: 20, GIR: 12, Scr: 54, PA: 1, AA: 5)
2009 Lee Westwood -23 (DD: 8, DA: 7, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 5, AA: 1)
Notes: That’s a classy list of previous winners and all were big hitters. Every champion was in the top eight for Driving Distance while all bar Stenson in 2014 were in the top eight for Putting Average. Smash it long and hole the putts seems to be the ideal recipe for success. Also note that five of the seven were in the top four for Greens In Regulation.
If you’re expecting wall-to-wall sunshine then you’re right. Temperatures are locked in at the high 80s and sunshine beams down all four days. The wind could pick up a little on Sunday.
The Leading Contenders
Rory has virtually conceded this year’s Race to Dubai after not playing in Turkey or South Africa – the first two events of the Final Series – although he can still win it. It’s highly unlikely though as even a McIlroy victory this week would require Stenson finishing outside the top 45. But don’t rule out the Northern Irishman keeping his end of the bargain. He’s won here twice, had four other top fives and hasn’t failed to make the top 10 in his last nine starts in the United Arab Emirates. A closing 66 gave him T4 on his latest start, the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.
Race to Dubai leader Stenson will want to put it bed in emphatic style and if he tops the leaderboard this week it would be the fifth time in eight years the tournament winner has also landed the season-long prize. Stenson scooped the lot in 2013 when smashing the field by six while he defended his DP World Tour Championship title with a two-shot victory in 2014. Also T7 in 2012, he arrives here on the back of T8 at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa where he finished 1st for Greens In Regulation.
Heading into July’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, Noren was still looking for his first top five of the season. He’ll now arrive into the final event of the season seeking his fifth win of the campaign after an incredible burst of golf which continued with a six-shot win in the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Sunday. The Swede achieved his fourth win in 11 starts with a closing 63. He’s had to settle for finishes in the high 30s in his last three starts in this event but did post T6 on debut in 2009 and showed a liking for desert golf with second place in last season’s Dubai Desert Classic.
After being passed by Henrik Stenson at the top of the Race to Dubai, it appeared Willett had nothing left in the tank. But he responded to a 75-74 start in South Africa last week with 67-69 on the weekend and that elevated him to T11. With Stenson finishing just three spots ahead, it means Masters champ Willett knows that a win here will make him Europe’s new No. 1 and complete an amazing season. He’s improved his finish every year at the Earth course, peaking with fourth 12 months ago while, on his last trip to the UAE, he won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year.
The Spaniard lines up here for the sixth time and he’s only once finished outside the top 12 (T21 in 2010). He’s twice cracked the top 10 and did it in unusual fashion four years ago after trading a pair of 64s (R2 and R4) with a pair of 73s. Since winning the Byron Nelson Championship in May, Sergio has posted five top 10s in nine worldwide starts, the most recent T9 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China where he was third for Greens In Regulation.
Despite T9 in his home Nedbank Golf Challenge, the smooth-swinging South African dropped a spot on the Race to Dubai to 8th. He spent some serious cash over the final three holes (bogey-double-par) and before that late slip was set to finish in a tie for second. Add that generally positive week (third on the All-Around) to his three previous top six finishes in this event (2014, 2012, 2011) and Oosthuizen carries plenty of appeal to gamers and bettors.
Grace (6th) jumped over compatriot Oosthuizen (8th) in the Race to Dubai with T3 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge after breaking par in all four rounds in his native South Africa. And yet his putter is still relatively cold (38th in Putting Average at the Gary Player Country Club). If it does heat up, Grace has to be considered a serious contender here given that his form at the Earth Course from 2012-2015 reads 6-52-9-3. He’s shot in the 60s in six of his last seven rounds at the Greg Norman layout.
Sullivan and Rory McIlroy put on their own version of the ‘Duel in the Sun’ when contesting this title last year. In the end, Rory holed a monster on 17 and beat the Englishman by a single shot. It was a further five strokes back to third place. Sullivan is something of a stud in this part of the world and his last four starts in the United Arab Emirates show two second places (his latest at February’s Dubai Desert Classic) and a fourth. He was also runner-up in defense of his Portugal Masters title last month and T3 in last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge so there is much to like about his chances.
The Austrian banked his fifth top seven finish in just six starts with T4 in the Turkish Airlines Open but, for some reason, didn’t line up in South Africa last week. Currently 11th on the Race to Dubai, Wiesberger hasn’t quite found the code to crack the Earth Course in four previous visits. He’s posted T17 and T16 in the last two but that still leaves him without a top 15 finish since he made his debut there in 2012. He is pretty reliable in the UAE though and has three top 10s and a further three top 20s in his last seven starts there.
He’s certain to be a popular pick this week, especially for those who base their strategy on converging trends. The Italian’s course form shows T6 in both 2010 and 2011 while he recorded his best yet at the Earth course when T4 last year after T16 in 2014 and T13 in 2013. As for current form, his last three starts show an emotional home win at the Italian Open (R4 65), T6 in the WGC-HSBC Champions and T4 in Las Vegas, the latter achieved with a stunning final-round 61.
The Next Rung
With a pair of second places (European Open, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) and T6 (WGC-HSBC Champions) in his last five starts, Fisher has been on the radar for most of this closing stretch to the season. A Sunday 77 last week left him down in T25 but it’s his course form that managers may struggle with here. He’s pegged it up six times at Jumeirah Estates but T13 in 2010 is the only time he’s cracked the top 25 and four of his finishes are outside the top 40.
Whether in good form or not, Hatton is always a player to consider in this neck of the woods as he boasts five top 10 finishes in nine starts in the UAE, starting with sixth spot in the Challenge Tour’s Grand Final in 2013. At this event he was T6 on debut in 2014 and added T13 last year. He wasn’t a factor in South Africa last week but he did enough to register his fifth straight top 25. That run was triggered by a breakthrough win at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and includes top 10s in the British Masters and Turkish Airlines Open.
An enjoyed a highly successful debut in this event 12 months ago when T4 but it didn’t rank as a surprise. He’d never been outside the top 15 in four previous starts in the region at European Tour and Challenge Tour level and he’s since enhanced his reputation in this part of the planet with T5 in Abu Dhabi and T4 in the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year. An recorded a sixth top 10 of the season in Europe with T10 at the Turkish Airlines Open so he looks in good form ahead of his latest attempt to shine in Dubai.
Pieters hasn’t shown his best since that sensational Ryder Cup debut (he was the event’s top points scorer) but, without doubt, this course suits his skill-sets (bombs it, makes lots of putts). He had a first look when T22 last year while he’s taken the eye with two big finishes in the region, both those coming in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship where he was runner-up this year after T4 on debut in 2015. If it clicks, he’s a definite title contender.
After a disappointing week at home in the Nedbank Golf Challenge (T39 and 21 shots behind the winner) it’s tempting to swerve Schwartzel here but his course form suggests otherwise. In his last four starts at Jumeirah Golf Estates, the South African has only once finished outside the top five (4-47-3-5). Not only that, he has four top 10 finishes and a T17 in his last six starts in the United Arab Emirates so it’s a place where he usually finds some of his better golf.
RCB has played some great golf in the UAE but that’s mostly come in the Dubai Desert Classic, a tournament he won in 2012 and finished runner-up earlier this year. At the Earth Course he had a big year in 2014 when carding middle rounds of 64-65 to top the leaderboard after 54 holes but a closing 75 relegated him to T9. He’s finished T14 (2013) and T22 (either side). Hopes that his overall excellent play in 2016 should translate into a deserved win soon are tempered by his T56 (76-72-77-73) in South Africa last week.
The double major winner has been consistent in this event (four top 20s in his last six starts) but hasn’t really landed the big bucks. Last year’s T10 represents a peak. Of more concern is a recent drop-off in form which has resulted in poor performances in events he’d won before – T40 in the WGC-HSBC Champions and T44 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. At least it looked as if he worked something out on the weekend in South Africa after he followed up 81-75 with 69-70. His putting stats continue to look modest though.
At 9th in the Race to Dubai, it’s been a fine season for Wood and he looked set to climb higher after sitting second at halfway in South Africa last week. It went wrong on the weekend and 75-77 left him T25. After producing little of note in the UAE, he has at least improved in the last couple of seasons, finishing T13 in this event last year (previous best T26) and T8 at the 2016 Dubai Desert Classic. It’s also worth noting that his first European Tour win came in the desert when he won the 2013 Qatar Masters with a 72nd-hole eagle.
It was one of Westwood’s finest hours when he won this event (and the Race to Dubai) with a crushing six-shot victory in 2009. He backed that up with third the following year and added T5 in 2013 so it’s one of the many courses where he can thrive. After bouncing back from a poor Ryder Cup with third spot in the British Masters he’s dipped again with T29 (WGC-HSBC) and T52 (Turkey) so gamers don’t get the same guarantee of consistency that Westwood once offered.
Another player who can be considered a ‘regional specialist’ thanks to six top 10s in his last 10 starts in tournaments held in the United Arab Emirates. Two of those good performances have come here, his best effort solo fourth in 2013 after playing his final 54 holes in 17-under. Luiten hit the heights again with victory in his home KLM Open in September and he’s played some solid golf more recently with T16 in the WGC-HSBC Champions and T14 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Despite big hitters dominating this event, Fitzpatrick showed he could hold his own at the Earth Course by finishing in a tie for fourth on his debut last year. That said, he was in the form of his life so playing well wherever he teed it up. Despite a win in Sweden in June, he’s not managed to recapture that high level of form although the youngster, who struggled badly at his first Ryder Cup, has managed back-to-back top 20s in his last two starts (T16 WGC-HSBC and T20 Nedbank).
It’s unusual to find a player in the top 10 of the Race to Dubai with 10 missed cuts on the season but Olesen is that man. A win in Turkey two weeks ago along with second places in Qatar and Germany earlier in the season show that there are big rewards to be had if you catch him at the right time. Historically, he’s always been worth following in the Middle East and T8 in Dubai earlier this year was his latest big performance in the UAE. At this course, all five of his finishes are between T12 and T21.
The 21-year-old Korean had a remarkable month of May when winning back-to-back European Tour events in Morocco and Mauritius and, after T13 in Turkey, looked all set to grab a third win of the season when entering the final round of last week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge with a three-shot lead. Alex Noren’s brilliant 63 put paid to that but Wang still managed to cling onto solo second and move into the top 15 on the Race to Dubai. The likely Rookie of the Year is making his debut in this event but did finish second in the Dubai Open (an Asian PGA Tour event) in 2014 on his only previous start in the country. Despite all this, he’s still over 100/1 with the bookies and hence gets ‘Sleeper‘ status.
So it seems the Frenchman has finally woken up. After being asleep for most of the season, V-Dub is heading to the end-of-season party after all following his T3 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge (1st in the All-Around) last week. Now that he’s here, don’t rule out a big performance. Dubuisson loves the Earth course and has a second (2014), a third (2013) and T13 in the last three years.
Like Dubuisson, the Portuguese punched his ticket at the 11th hour after jumping into the top 60 with T3 in the Nedbank last week. That followed T13 in Turkey so he’s found a groove at just the right time. It’s his course debut and he has no good results in Dubai so current form is all gamers have.
A pair of top 25s in Turkey and South Africa in the first two Final Series events have taken the young Italian through to the Dubai finale. Since the end of September he’s pieced together five top 25s in six starts and, although this is his course debut, he’s posted T13 and T26 in the last two editions of the Dubai Desert Classic.
It’s a third appearance in the DP World Tour Championship for Van Zyl and this one was achieved thanks to T10 in his native South Africa last week, a result which took him to 56th on the Race to Dubai. T42 at the Earth Course last year and T22 back in 2011.
A run of two top 10s and two top 20s ended with T44 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge but he deserves a look for that late-season push which included T6 in Turkey. He’s a first-timer in the event but does have a spot of location form with T14 in the Challenge Tour Grand Final and T22 (R4 65) in this year’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
A big hitter who can get hot with the putter, Hend could potentially be a big factor here. He wasn’t on debut last year when T56 but an opening 77 put him behind the 8-ball and he did manage to shoot two 69s. Also T8 in the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, the Aussie has finished T25 (Turkey) and T44 (Nedbank) in the first two events of the Final Series.
The three-time major winner has some memory refreshing to do as this is his first start at the Earth Course since 2012. His memories will be positive ones though as he finished T9 that year while in his only two previous starts he was fourth on debut in 2009 and T39 in 2010. After short-game wizardry gave him an unexpected win in Portugal last month, he’s posted T31 in Turkey and T56 in South Africa.
A winner in Abu Dhabi (2014) and has been T26 or better in four of his starts at this event including T10 in 2011. The Spaniard was also T8 in the Turkish Airlines Open two weeks ago so if he pops up on the leaderboard, you can’t say he hasn’t dropped previous clues.
Who’s On The Team?
Four players can still win the Race to Dubai and it would be very simple for managers playing the six-man European Tour Fantasy game to put them all in.
Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson have dominated this event in the last four years, Alex Noren is on fire and Danny Willett may just have run into some good form again as he bids to wrestle top spot back.
It may not play out that simply and the list of others to consider must surely include in-form Andy Sullivan, who was runner-up last year.
I’ll reveal my final line-up of the season in Tuesday’s Playing The Tips feature.
One To Swerve
Martin Kaymer appears to be ending the season on a flat note and has never really convinced fully on this course.