Dubai Desert Classic - Winner

The Majlis course here in Dubai is well known for all DPWT fans and usually provides an entertaining finish with an exciting final par five where just about anything can happen.

Down the years no particular statistic stands much taller than any others but SG off the tee certainly appears to be the most important. Hovland was 2nd off the tee, and 3rd tee to green last year when winning. Casey won the previous year having topped the tee to green stat.

Arnaus was 3rd in 2020 topping the same stat so it would certainly suggest a solid long game helps. Plenty of contenders here have also finished low down the strokes gained approach stat for the week which is surprising as most weeks it's a decent barometer as to who contends; however, this course appears on the contrary. Instead a good driving game coupled with good scrambling makes for a good combination around here.

The winners and placers here have been a 'who's who' of Open and Links specialists. 2018 Champion Haotong Li finished 3rd on his first trip over the Open. 2017 Champion and runner-up Garcia and Stenson have long been Open experts. McIlroy, Woods, Els and O'Meara are other winners here that have held the Claret Jug aloft.

In 2013 and 2014 Stephen Gallacher went back to back here and one of his two other European Tour wins arrived at the Dunhill Links. Add in some correlation with Dom Pedro in Portugal and you have a base on which to work through the field.

Rory McIlroy begins his 2023 journey this week in Dubai and if 2022 is anything to go by he is in for a fun ride. The responsibility of protecting the tour from outside forces looked to give McIlroy an extra spring in his step last summer and his results since have been outstanding.

Three wins in his last 12 efforts and only three times outside the top five in that period show just how ahead he was of the rest towards the end of last year. Two months with no competitive golf is the only worry but he has started in these parts many times down the years and his success is plentiful. We did have 8/1 to chew on last year, but that makes way for 3/1 this term.

Robert MacIntyre at 28/1 (Eight Paces)

Robert MacIntyre punters endured a tough watch last week in Abu Dhabi with him playing absolute sparkling stuff whilst watching an episode of Child's Play on the greens. The Scot suffered badly with the putter last week ranking 63rd in the field of those who made the cut. That won't cut the mustard and whilst he remains one of the better putters, the odd week like that certainly puts him behind the eight ball.

A top 20 finish was admirable in the end but a sign of just what could have happened had he managed to putt well. Putting is a fickle stat and we all know how quickly it can turn and I'm happy enough to back around the same price as last week despite Rory's addition.

He ranked 1st off the tee last week and 3rd tee to green. If MacIntyre can bring that long game to Dubai Rory will do very well to match him. A top 20 in Portugal in two tries there as well as two top tens in Open Championships suggests he is capable of scoring around this track. He is another ball buster who should be suited by the rain forecast.

2.5pts each-way R.MacIntyre 28/1 (1/5 8)

Min Woo Lee at 22/1 (Eight Places)

Min Woo Lee came agonisingly close to another Rolex Series win on Sunday coming up one shot shy after a world-class pitch from beside the green that so nearly produced an eagle and in turn a playoff. Unfortunately, his bogey on the 71st hole cost him his chance of winning. It was another performance to solidify the Australian's place in the game and suggests his Scottish Open win a few years ago in a top-class field was no fluke.

His credentials for these types of tests were first shown in a very windy final day at the Vic Open back in February of 2020. He won there then the following year beat the likes of Rahm to win the Scottish. His defeat there of Detry and Fitzpatrick in the playoff means he isn't short on confidence against some of the world's best and should he have to tackle Rory over the weekend here then he won't be afraid.

Two top three finishes in Spain in October were another sign of just how far his game has progressed and he finished the year with another couple of top fives in his home country. His youthful CV suggests he is perfect for this test and I expect him to go much better than his missed cut a couple of years ago.

His touch around the greens is one of the best in the game and that has always proven important around the Majlis course. He has an abundance of power off the tee also and I would have expected his price to condense a little more from what it was last week despite the addition of the tournament favourite. 

2pts each-way Min Woo Lee 22/1 (1/5 8)

Bernd Wiesberger at 80/1 (Eight Places)

It is difficult to quantify just how competitive Bernd Wiesberger is since his move to the LIV tour but there have been some decent signs of late and he is one who could go well at a big price. The Austrian built his career on a great tee-to-green game whilst struggling a lot throughout on the greens. That hasn't stopped him winning plenty though and he has a host of good finishes on links-type golf courses.

Wins at the Renaissance Club and Himmerland as well as runner ups at Royal County Down and Lahinch are enough to show he has enough experience in the locker on links to fit into the bracket of all the winners that have gone before here with a similar profile.

He drove the ball very poorly last week at Yas Links but it must be said that is a tough driving course and difficult once out of position. 15th in the field on approach and gaining strokes on the greens are better signs though and he is granted a much easier assignment from the tee this week in Dubai. The rain forecast on Wednesday and beyond should also play into his hands so I'm hopeful of a good deal of improvement from last week.

1pt each-way B.Wiesberger 80/1 (1/5 8)

Padraig Harrington at 70/1 (Eight Places)

More mathematical minds than me would be able to work this out but I doubt there has ever been a better performing 51-year-old in the world of golf than Padraig Harrington. Jimenez would have given him a run for his money a couple of years ago but Harrington's success lately has been astonishing.

He landed four Senior events last season including the US Seniors Open. A top 20 in the Dunhill Links was his only trip to the DPWT since the summer then a great effort last week in Abu Dhabi where he traded single figures during the final couple of holes.

The Irishman is flying right now and I wouldn't be surprised should this triple major winner land another prize on this tour. He is hitting the ball longer than most ranking 14th in driving distance last week and should his putting hold up under pressure then he should have a serious chance of contending once again. His CV is perfect for this with two Open wins and with correlating form between here and Portugal often pointing towards contenders his 2016 win at Dom Pedro is another positive. 

1pt each-way P.Harrington 70/1 (1/5 8)

Joost Luiten at 125/1 (Six Places)

Henrik Stenson will be remembered for many things in his career but his move to the LIV tour will undoubtedly cast a cloud over his career with him being dropped as the captain of the Ryder Cup team as a result. As many will know, personally I think the event is over-emphasised in the media and with the players but a sacking from the European Tour was a huge story.

He bounced back the following week in typical Stenson coolness when winning the Bedminster event in his maiden LIV outing. Since then there hasn't been much to write home about but there was plenty to like about his performance last week in Abu Dhabi and if he can overcome a lack of length around here then he could figure once again.

The yardage off the tee is a burden though and for that reason alone it's enough to put me off backing. Joost Luiten is another worth keeping an eye on after shooting a one over par first round last week in Abu Dhabi only to rally over the weekend to finish inside the 30. His final round 66 was only beaten by two others and having finished off 2022 in fine form with 7th in Portugal then two top 25 finishes in South Africa, he certainly looks to be improving.

My one worry is that he has to overcome a lack of length off the tee also, but he gained yardage on the field last week in Abu Dhabi averaging 310 yards off the tee so I'm hopeful he can rise to that challenge. His record for this type of test looks good with a runner up in Portugal, a win by the coast in Oman and a handful of top five finishes across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

0.75pt each-way J.Luiten 125/1 (1/5 6)