Winner’s Fund – €303, 268
The European Tour moves onto the final leg of the ‘Desert Swing’ which also marks the 25th anniversary of the Dubai Desert Classic. Last week for us was another painful one as Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Thomas Aiken just came up short, but when Garcia plays the way he did, hardly anyone can stop him.
Tiger Woods is back here for only his 2nd appearance since his win in 2008. After the way he played on one of his favourite courses last week, it will take a brave man to back the American at the short odds you will inevitably find him at. And of course we have to mention Stenson and McIlroy, with the latter looking very promising two weeks ago, just being undone by a 2-stroke penalty. The tournament was also the scene of his first ever professional win back in 2009. We feel the Northern Irishman deserves his favourite position this week. Ernie Els also boasts stunning course form here.
At the Emirates Golf Club, emphasis will largely be on putting this week, with GIR and distance off the tee crucial too. It will be playing 7,316 yards, so short enough for the bigger hitters to take advantage. Last year’s winner Stephen Gallacher consistently ranked inside the top 5 for putts per round and top 10 for putts per GIR over the four days. And also ranked 4th for driving distance over the final two rounds. And we can’t forget the winner will need to shoot into the low 20’s, so birdies and eagles are a must. All par 5’s are eagle chances and the fairways should be relatively generous. But hazards are in play on quite a few of the holes, so you can’t just go for out-and-out bombers off the tee.
Both Stan James and Paddy Power are paying 6 places this week, so bet wisely.
Thorbjørn Olesen (30/1 BetVictor)
The Dane is undoubtedly one of our favourite golfers and one of the best young talents in the sport. After what started as a really promising year for Olesen, 2013 didn’t turn out quite as he had planned. He managed just one top 10 after his scintillating T6 at the Masters where he shot two consecutive rounds of 68 over the weekend. So the lad has talent. But it seems he is an early season player and particularly enjoys the ‘Desert Swing’. Last year he registered a T2 in Abu Dhabi and then a T3 here at the Emirates Golf Club.
He is a player who thrives off form and last week in Qatar he really came to our attention. He eventually finished T3 but was challenging all the way and but for a few putts that burned the edge, he could have easily took the title. He shot four rounds in the 60’s and was consistently up there in the GIR stats. And Qatar was a course he had never even finished top 20 on before last week. All he needs is the putter to get hot and he could walk away with it this week.
Peter Hanson (40/1 Various)
Our second Scandinavian pick of the week and someone who we were very close to backing last week. We feel his game is fast getting back to that which has seen him win 6 titles on the European Tour and become a pivotal member in the Ryder Cup team. 2013 would have been a disappointment for the Swede as he didn’t manage one victory and in truth rarely looked like challenging. Although injury did hamper him for parts of the year but he is back to 100% now! So he will want 2014 to be a big one and he comes to a course this week where he fits the bill perfectly.
His long distance off the tee and very consistent putting will hold him in good stead over the four days. He ranked consistently in the top 10 over the final 3 days in Qatar for putts per round and putts per GIR. His length was not as big as we come to expect but accuracy has come as a result. The generous fairways of the Emirates will mean he can loosen those shoulders up though. If the swing clicks into place and he keeps putting like he is, Hanson will be a big player this week.
Peter Uihlein (70/1 BetVictor)
Such is the talent of the young American, we find it hard not to back him every week. But we really do believe he is going to be a serious contender at the Emirates. His 2013 was nothing short of sensational for a rookie and now needs to push on this year to really prove how good he is. His game should be perfect for this course, often leading the distance charts averaging over 300 yards off the tee and being not too shabby on the greens either. He was on average about 10th in putting stats in Qatar last week. That is a deadly combination. The par 5s in particular are where he will thrive this week. At these odds, he is a really good bet.
Stephen Gallagher (50/1 BetVictor)
It’s always a risk backing the winner from the previous year but Gallagher does seem to be peaking at just the right time. We were on the Scotsman last week and he produced a solid display finishing T28, just never breaking into the top of the leaderboard. His driving was averaging just less than 300 yards and he was looking steady on the greens.
He is known to take a few holidays over here and says the course suits his eye. And his three-ball contains a certain Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, that’s going to be a lovely couple of days viewing.
Marcel Siem (100/1 Various)
We’ve got a real feeling about the German this week. This course should be the perfect fit for him and he has had two top 5 finishes here in 2012 and 2004. Last year was a good one for Siem, as he won his third European title as well as breaking into the world top 50. He has always drove the ball around 300 yards throughout his career and last week in Qatar he was never outside the top 10 in putts per GIR. His accuracy at times let him down off the tee, but this course is considerably more forgiving and that can only mean one thing, birdie chances. He has yet to make his mark on 2014, but this could be the week.
Mikko Ilonen (90/1 Paddy Power)
Finally last week’s runner up from Finland, Mikko Ilonen. Another of our admired players and we really can’t ignore him at such high odds. For someone to play so well last week and still get these odds is something we need to take advantage of. We know that Ilonen is definitely a form player and although he lost in a play-off, he will take a lot of confidence with the way he played. His game is as consistent as they come and look out for his deadly accurate iron-play through the week. And he has finished 6th on this track before.