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Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Belgian bomber can cap big year with Dubai glory

Thomas Pieters has the deft touch to match his long-hitting game
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Tournament starts 3.50am Thursday
Live on Sky Sports 4, from 8.30am

Palmer’s top tip
Thomas Pieters 35-1
Rory McIlroy fell in love with his new driver in the WGC-HSBC Champions last time out and is a warm order at a happy hunting ground this week.

McIlroy put the TaylorMade M2 in his bag for the first time in China and is driving his ball further than ever, producing ridiculous hang-time off the tee. Given the Northern Irishman’s fantastic record at the Earth Course, home of the DP World Tour Championship since 2009, it is little wonder bookmakers are running for cover.

The layers appear to have found it, though, with a best price of just 3-1. McIlroy’s form figures in this event read 3-5-11-1-5-2-1, and he is also a dual champion in the Dubai Desert Classic, but there are too many good players to beat this week for a chunky investment at 3-1.

McIlroy, brilliant in the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup and an early arrival in Dubai to prepare for this event, is by far the most likely winner. Preference on value grounds, though, is for each-way bets on four proven European Tour champions.

McIlroy’s Ryder Cup sidekick Thomas Pieters looks the best option of all. Pieters fears nobody after his Hazeltine heroics and is teeing up at a track ideally suited to his talents. A share of 22nd place was a solid Earth Course debut last year and much better can be expected after another 12 months of development.

A mid-division effort on his Sun City debut last week is easy to forgive and birdies should be more plentiful for Pieters on a wide-open desert layout. The Belgian bomber has twice contended in the Abu Dhabi Championship – fourth in 2015, second this year – and should bank a fortune in the Gulf in the decade to come.

Next best
Victor Dubuisson 50-1
Another cool customer who excelled in a Ryder Cup debut for Europe may also make his mark in Dubai. Victor Dubuisson starred at Gleneagles in 2014, going unbeaten through three matches against the States, and moved into the world’s top 20. Injuries, illness, a clubs-switch and a turbulent relationship with the art of putting, have made it a difficult two years for the Frenchman since that Cup glory.

Last week’s performance in South Africa was hugely encouraging for Dubuisson, though, and he could easily build on it at one of his favourite venues this week. The 26-year-old was third in the Nedbank, thrilled with results on the greens having reverted to an old putting style, and delighted to have qualified for the European Tour finale for the fourth year in succession.

Dubuisson delivered the top-six finish he needed in the Nedbank to make it to Dubai and this maverick could freewheel to something special at a course where his three-year form figures are 3-2-13. He has proved his Sunday bottle by twice winning the Turkish Airlines Open.

Other selections
Byeong Hun An 40-1
Bernd Wiesberger 30-1
Byeong Hun An has quickly become one of the European Tour’s desert rats. His eight Gulf visits have yielded form figures of 14-4-12-5-13-4-5-4 (two Challenge Tour Grand Finals before joining the main circuit).

The world-class Korean, tenth in Turkey last time out, can be fancied to figure on the leaderboard on Sunday. He was the first of the 60 runners to arrive at the Earth Course (last Wednesday), so is clearly sensing his chance and is thoroughly prepared.

Complete your staking plan with Bernd Wiesberger, who boasts European Tour form of 2-5-7-2-35-4, and has finished in the top 20 at the Earth Course the last two years. The powerful Austrian’s last nine Gulf spins (9-16-6-3-4-17-26-13-16) underline how comfortable he has become in this region, and skipping the Nedbank provided a timely breather.

Other notables
Thorbjorn Olesen loves Dubai and desert golf, and won convincingly in Turkey ten days ago, while Ricardo Gouveia and Renato Paratore are two in-form debutants to keep an eye on. It’s hard to know how much the active quartet of Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett, Alex Noren and Andy Sullivan have left in the tank at the end of a long season.

Staking plan
T Pieters
2.5pts each-way 35-1 bet365
V Dubuisson
2pts each-way BetBright
B H An
1.5pts each-way 40-1 general
B Wiesberger
1.5pts each-way 30-1 Betfair, Betfred 

Pieters fears nobody after his Hazeltine heroics and is teeing up at a track ideally suited to his talents
E.W. Terms
Sky bet