The European Tour stays in the United Arab Emirates this week, moving from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for the original desert event.
This is the 30th anniversary of the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates GC and it has a storied list of winners including Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie.
Last year, Rory had to settle for second place as he lost a fierce battle with China’s HaoTong Li, whose winning score of 23-under was a tournament record.
A total of 4,250 Race to Dubai points are up for grabs, down on the 7,000 of Abu Dhabi but still much higher than anything else we’ve seen on the European Tour since it kicked off in November.
Last 10 Winners and Stats
2018 -23 HaoTong Li (DD: 18, DA: 45, GIR: 47, Scr: 13, PA: 1, AA: 7)
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)
Notes: Driving it long and hitting lots of greens is the usual recipe although Li relied on a red-hot putter last year.
Designed by Karl Litton, 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’. It’s hosted every edition since 1989 apart from 1999 and 2000. It’s a fairly typical desert par 72 and measures 7,328 yards with the par 5s coming at 3, 10, 13 and 18 so there are four to go at on the back nine. The greens are Bermuda Tiff Eagle and europeantour.com says this of the fairways: “Not over-seeded this year to encourage hard and fast fairways.” That could help the shorter hitters.
Temperatures gradually rise throughout tournament week, hitting the high 80s for Sunday’s closer. Wind? All four days show only a gentle breeze with 9mph on Friday afternoon the peak. Sun is guaranteed in this part of the world of course.
Ernie Els (2018) (a theory on why two of the last three winners here have gone on to win The Masters): “Definitely a drawer's golf course. It's where my eye found back in the day, I could move it easily right-to-left and obviously Augusta is very similar.”
Pat Perez (2018): “It's a desert course. I live in Scottsdale, so we have all desert courses. The grass is pretty similar. They are small greens, but the layout's right in front of you. You hit it in your spot, hit it on the green. I think the layout is fantastic.”
Alexander Bjork (2018): “It's a little shorter than some of the other (desert) courses we play, but it suits me quite well and a lot of fun holes. I like it.”
Thomas Aiken (2018): “It's not really a golf course that's ever really seen my eye. I like to hit it left-to-right. Most holes go right-to-left, especially on the back nine. But I've always seemed to play quite well here and I think it's more due to the fact that the condition of the course is unbelievable. You have tight fairways and the rough is really thick and you get penalised for missing fairways. Then the greens are rock hard. I think that's the key factor.”
Played here in 2016 when still an amateur and shot four under-par rounds (70-69-68-69) to take a very creditable T18. He returns at fifth in the world rankings after three wins in his last seven starts and a pair of top tens (T7 and T10) in Hawaii to start 2019. With that previous look, there seems no reason why he shouldn’t make a big title challenge.
He was talking a good game going into Abu Dhabi last week but fluffed his lines, missing the cut with rounds of 72-70. There wasn’t much wrong though and it’s surely a smarter move to look at his fantastic record here. 6-2-6 the last three years and he has a win (2007) and seven other top eights since 2006. Seven top tens in his last nine starts in the UAE and a former Dubai resident.
Disappointed when trying to win Abu Dhabi for the third year running, breaking 70 just once and finishing down in T42 (a cold putter was to blame). The fact that it was his worst finish since July shows just what a consistent and high-class operator the Englishman has become. He’s 5-for-7 here with T10 in 2013 and T6 last year when shooting all four days in the 60s.
Comes in on the back of solo fourth in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (65-68-75-66) and he must slightly be kicking himself for letting it slide in round three. However, his latest European Tour form now reads 3-1-7-4 and he has a third and seventh here in two of his last five visits. A slight concern are the MCs on his last two Dubai starts (2016 and 2018).
Fuelled by his recall to the Ryder Cup team and subsequent success at Le Golf National, a rejuvenated Sergio ended 2018 with six straight top tens, including a win in his home Andalucia Masters at Valderrama. There could be some rust here but he won this title in 2017 and had four straight top 20s (19-11-20-17) from 2008 to 2013.
One of the past champions in the field (2012) and he’s backed that up with second place in 2016, T6 last year and further top 20s in 2011, 2013 and 2017 so this is one of his very favourite venues. Closed 2018 with T6 in Hong Kong and started 2018 with T11 in Abu Dhabi last week when ranked 1st for Scrambling.
A 34-hour journey and huge time difference left Poulter fighting jet-lag in Abu Dhabi last week but he shook it off well, finishing T6. He has a perfect 8-for-8 slate in this event and, encouragingly, his best two finishes came when he returned it to his schedule in 2017 after a nine-year gap. He took T15 that year and improved to T6 in 2018.
Opened his 2018/2019 Race to Dubai campaign by finishing second in Hong Kong in late November and prepared for his second start with a top four in last week’s Singapore Open (ranking 6th for GIR). He’s missed two of his four starts in the Dubai Desert Classic but cracked the top five in 2017 and has some excellent form in other desert events, including a win at the 2016 DP World Tour Championship.
Like Stenson, he made a surprise early exit in Abu Dhabi, also shooting 72-70. He also missed the cut here on debut in 2014 but those are the two outliers in his desert form. The Englishman has a 50% strike-rate of top tens in the UAE in 14 events since late 2014 and here at Emirates GC he’s posted third place in each of the last two years and T8 in 2016.
The Irishman is an interesting one to assess this week. He’s on a huge high after scoring a superb win in last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. And yet his course form here reads MC-66-MC-MC. The last of those came in 2014 so we’ll have to see if the break has done him good. One of the keys to Lowry’s win last week was that he’d spent a lot of time practising in Dubai ahead of the event so that should stand him in good stead here too.