The Omega Dubai Desert Classic
By Lewis Pacelli
Last week at the Qatar Masters resulted in a phenomenal performance from Englishman Chris Wood, who won his first ever European Tour title. His consistency was commendable, whilst that eagle on the 18th was an unbelievable show of character and confidence, leapfrogging the late challenges from our tip George Coetzee and Sergio Garcia. The latter looked very impressive and warrants his low prices for the tournament this week. If he can get a run of form and momentum going, the Spaniard will definitely be a contender for majors this year.
This Thursday brings the final leg of the ‘Desert Swing’ events as the players take to the gorgeous Emirates Club course for The Omega Dubai Desert Classic. We will also see the first outing of the season for Lee Westwood, who took a long break to recuperate and attempt another major challenge this year. I mean, he hasn’t even tweeted since August!
As for the course, it is 7,316 yards and a par 72. The putting surfaces are relatively flat with fast Bermuda grass. There are a few reachable par 5’s, so whilst it may not be the longest course on Tour, someone who can smack a ball will do well. However, accuracy will be vital to manoeuvre around the doglegs and avoid the multiple water hazards and bunkers. We feel the challengers will have a mix of power and accuracy, whilst still having some experience in this area of the world.
Every winner in the last 8 years had previously recorded at least 1 top 10 finish in the 3 outings prior to the event,
We warn you – there is the possibility of strong winds at the weekend, which means scores will not be quite as high as last years winner Rafa Cabrera-Bello (-18) and the first appearance on our selections for a perennial storm-loving Danishman. Watch out.
Henrik Stenson (14/1 PaddyPower)
We really fancied the Swede last week, however he was never able to really mount a proper challenge. Although he was very consistent and proving once more that he is a quality player who could be a big force on Tour if he applies himself properly.
His recent form has been good, without being excellent, but he is one that needs one big round to kick off a title challenge. And he is certainly very capable of that. Since 2006 he has produced 4 top 10’s on this course, one of which includes his impressive win in 2007, holding off the likes of Els and Woods.
As we all know, the boy can hit a ball and hit it far. He is averaging just over 300 yards so far this season, lying in 7th for driving distance and could get low scores on the 4 par 5’s. He is also 33rd for GIR, which prove his iron play is consistent and he will give himself birdie chances. If he can get his putter going and momentum during the back 9, he could be a major threat this week.
Paul Casey (25/1 PaddyPower)
The Englishman has constantly been on the cusp of greatness but has never fully fulfilled his magnificent potential. What may shock some people is that he now finds himself at 124th in the world rankings. Which begs the question; does he warrant those low odds for someone not even in the top 100? Well let us tell you why he does.
He has never entered this tournament and not found himself in the top 20, which shows he likes the track. Plus, the end to last season and beginning to this one has shown signs of an improving Casey. He had a torrid time for a long period, where everything he touched turned sour. But because of his talent, we always kept an eye on him and he started getting more airtime and his name started creeping up the leaderboards.
His T6th at the BMW Masters last year was the biggest sign yet, where he carded 3 68’s in a row. Consistency that hadn’t been seen from him in a long time.
His iron play is improving, now lying in 15th for GIR whilst he his averaging 293 yards off the tee, a few yards further than last year. All in all, we feel Casey has so much to prove and he is starting to realise his slip out of the top 100 will result in fewer tournament invites. He can certainly challenge here, after decent showings in the last 2 weeks, where his accuracy and tee to green play has been as good as anyone’s. If he can only get his putter to work fluidly… Got to keep the faith.
Thomas Bjorn (45/1 PaddyPower)
Well. Mr. Bjorn has his first mention on tour as one of DownThe18th’s leading men arrives in Dubai with a major e/w shout. His recent two performances were certainly below par, making the cuts, however never mounting any sort of challenge for the top 20. However his form at the Emirates Club stands out from the crowd, winning it the first time the tournament moved courses back in 2001.
He was also T9th last year, during an interesting patch of form for the Dane. The stats don’t particularly hold Bjorn in the greatest of lights, however there is just something about him that make his case appealing. He has an ability to work a way around difficult situations and courses, whilst the weather forecast is predicting stronger winds at the weekend. If he can get in contention, the Great Dane will thrive off the conditions and then, who knows!
Danny Willet (45/1 PaddyPower)
Danny Willet is a surprise selection this week, but his recent form and attributes could really suit the course in Dubai. The Englishman was T23rd in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago, with a consistent 4 rounds of golf, all under par. Whilst prior to that his T5th in South Africa, proved he has the capabilities of finishing high up the leaderboard and more importantly showed he can hit low scores – something that will be needed here for sure. He hasn’t missed a cut in 9 tournaments, which includes 4 top 10 finishes. His T6th in Portugal is a major sign that his game will adapt well here, as players who perform in the Algarve, generally succeed in Dubai. (He has 2 T6s out of 3 in Portugal) The first appearance here 2 years ago, ended in finishing 48th, yet he showed he has the ability after a first round 68. Without the nightmare 77 on the final day he would of comfortably been in the top 20 and it is rare he shoots an over par round to that extent.
Plus, Willet does have the bottle to hold out in pressure situations, as proven by his maiden win at the BMW International Open last year, holding off Marcus Fraser in a four-hole playoff. Considering he had never won a tournament, it was an impressive feat.
He has averaged 296 yards for the last 2 seasons and currently lies in 19th in driving distance, whilst he is 23rd in GIR. Tee to green he will definitely do a job and just like his countryman Paul Casey, he must get his putter working if he is to challenge the top 5.
Andy Sullivan (150/1 PaddyPower)
Our long shot this week comes in the form of another Englishman, Andy Sullivan. Admittedly, he has never played this course, having only turned pro in 2011, however his T9th last week in Qatar grabbed our attention. He carded a 65 on the last day, proving his ability to hit a low score and his T3rd at the Alfred Dunhill in December produced a 64. We are certain he has a big future in the game and he could cause a few upsets this week. 3 out of 5 tournaments in the top 10 shows his form and with an average distance of 295 yards off the tee, alongside lying 33rd for driving accuracy, his attributes are perfect for quality golf in the desert. He is no mug with irons either, currently in 42nd for his GIR, showing he can hit the green. All in all, at those odds it would be foolish not to have a punt!
This week’s double comes in the form of a Swede and an American. Funnily enough just as it was last week! Henrik Stenson and Ryan Palmer throw up the combined odds of 1050/1, which is just too big to turn down. Both have great shouts for their respective tournaments, so instead of spend a couple of quid on a lottery ticket, chuck it on this. You have way more chance of earning a healthy sum.
Plus, Rickie Fowler and Stenson have the combined odds of 295/1 and we need say no more on the potential of that double…