This week the European Tour heads to Dubai for the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates GC, and Bryson de Chambeau is a clear favourite to win, but not favoured by our Golf tipster Matt Cooper.
Nowhere on the circuit demonstrates the growth of the European Tour like the annual trip to the Dubai Desert Classic. Just its own progression reflects that of European Tour golf.
Picture the first renewal at the Emirates GC, the host course standing more or less alone amongst the sand in 1989, then look at the present day, where the Dubai Desert Classic rounds are played out against the dramatic backdrop of skyscrapers, luxury hotels and other high rises.
That first visit to Dubai was a sign of where the European Tour circuit was heading: not just beyond the boundaries of the continent of Europe itself, but also to the world’s most glamorous cities; the likes of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Cape Town and Singapore.
In contrast, back in the early 1980s, right about now, the golfers were touring the rather less chic UK towns, Bingley, Rickmansworth and Worksop.
The Dubai Desert Classic is played on the Majlis Course at Emirates GC, a Karl Litten-designed par-72 at 7,328-yards. The Bermuda greens have often been fast, but last year this was less of a factor - it remains to be seen if that is the case this time around.
What the European Tour website does report is that the fairways have not been overseeded, specifically to encourage hard and fast running conditions from the tee. The short par-4 17th and par-5 18th create an exciting finale, which can see wild fluctuations in scoring (good and bad).
The names etched on the Dubai Desert Classic trophy include many of the golf's greats – the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, Fred Couple, Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
Sergio Garcia followed up his win with victory in the US Masters, a double that Danny Willett completed 12 months beforehand. Last year China’s Hao Tong Li went head-to-head with Rory McIlroy in the final round and surprised many, the Northern Irishman included, to claim the title. He's back for more, but 33/1 for the double
Bryson ‘The Scientist’ DeChambeau returns to the Dubai Desert Classic for a second time; he was T18th on debut two years ago but is a settled performer on the world stage these days.
Sergio Garcia is also back, having warmed up in last week’s Singapore Open with T7th. Tommy Fleetwood features, looking for a third top 10 in his eighth start on the course (he’s yet to make the top five). And Louis Oosthuizen will be a popular pick after chalking up his fifth top seven in six starts last week in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
However, the favourite I’m most tempted by is Henrik Stenson, in spite of the fact that he missed the cut last week in Abu Dhabi. That result is actually something of a paradoxical bonus (rather than putting me off).
He was confident last week and he wasn’t (and won’t be) the first golfer to trip up with high expectations. Sometimes being pulled up short can reap benefits and I’m hoping that he can rediscover his strong course form.
He’s made 13 of his last 14 cuts on the course, all 13 were top 30s, eight were top tens (three in the last three years) and he was a winner in 2007. He’s 16/1 with PaddyPower (who are paying out down to seventh place).
>> Back Henrik Stenson Each-Way at 16/1 with Paddy Power
Tapio Pulkkanen emerged as the number one ranked performer on the 2017 Challenge Tour and retained his card last season with a number of strong performances, most notably when fourth in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and 10th in the Turkish Airlines Open.
He hits the ball ferocious distances and at his best putts with a deadly eye. He’s yet to be tested in competition on the course, but he does have experience of playing it and told me at the end of last season that he was really looking forward to this week.
In fact, outside the Dunhill Links, it was the event he had most in his sights, especially because he missed out on playing it in his rookie campaign. He’s a huge 300/1, again seven-places Paddy Power, but what appeals more is the 11/1 for a top 20 finish with Bet365.
>> Back Tapio Pulkkanen at 11/1 for Top 20 with Bet365
Dean Burmester made a solid course debut 12 months ago, breaking 70 on every lap on his way to T22nd and it was something of an extension to his exceptional form in the UAE.
He’s twice finished fourth in the DP World Tour Championship (in Dubai) and was seventh in Abu Dhabi two years ago. Long enough to gobble up the par-5s and that short 17th, he’s an attractive 100/1 (six places) with Unibet.
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