Resurgent Rory McIlroy set for more Dubai dominance
Fleetwood may be left behind this week
Starts 3.10am Thursday morning
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 4am
Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose jetted back to the States after the Abu Dhabi Championship, leaving Rory McIlroy at the head of the betting for the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Club.
Defending champion Sergio Garcia, who won the Singapore Open by five shots on the Asian Tour last week, is second in the market, with Abu Dhabi victor Tommy Fleetwood and perennial Gulf dangerman Henrik Stenson just behind the Spaniard.
Palmer’s top tip
Rory McIlroy 5-1
The winner of the Dubai Desert Classic has gone on to become Masters champion in each of the last two years – Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia triumphed at the Emirates before claiming an even greater prize a couple of months later – and that adds an extra layer of motivation for Rory McIlroy this week.
The Masters is an obsession for McIlroy, who is desperate to complete a career Grand Slam of Majors as soon as possible, and any positive omens with regards to securing a Green Jacket will be gleefully accepted.
The Desert Classic has been moved slightly earlier in the schedule this season, but could still provide a springboard for Augusta glory.
Not that McIlroy needs any added incentive to give his all in Dubai. The former world number one, currently in a false rankings position of 11th, is winless since the 2016 Tour Championship and eager to reclaim trophies. The journey back to the top can start with a third Desert Classic success.
More than three months on the sidelines, recuperating and working on his game, clearly invigorated McIlroy. He returned in Abu Dhabi looking strong and sharp, greatly impressing once he found a groove, finishing third. An understandably slow start meant 11 opening pars, but from his 12th hole onwards he made 19 birdies and an eagle.
The only slight negatives for McIlroy in Abu Dhabi were a few loose drives, particularly on Sunday, and a fairly cold putter. It was his first week using the TaylorMade M3 driver, though, so he should straighten up in Dubai, where the fairways are more generous, and he prefers the flatter greens of the Emirates.
In the likelihood of McIlroy finding more fairways this week, and rolling his rock with more confidence on dancefloors where he has dominated in the past, it is not difficult to imagine the four-time Major champion beating up a field which is weaker than that which lined up in Abu Dhabi.
McIlroy has never won his first tournament of a year and never been victorious at Abu Dhabi, but he has twice been Desert Classic champion, including his maiden European Tour victory in 2009. He won by three shots in 2015 and has finished in the top ten in each of his last seven Emirates visits. The Northern Irishman has also won the other Dubai event – the DP World Tour Championship – in 2012 and 2015. He nearly always performs well in this city.
Everything fell into place for Tommy Fleetwood to retain his Abu Dhabi crown on Sunday, but he may be outgunned on the easier Emirates, where his record is poor (57-10-MC-47-50-MC).
Henrik Stenson, who finished well in Abu Dhabi, and Garcia, settling nicely with his Callaway equipment and full of positivity in Singapore, are probably the biggest obstacles for McIlroy to overcome, but 5-2, rather than the freely available 9-2, would arguably be a more accurate reflection of the chance of the favourite obliging in perfect weather.
Haydn Porteous 250-1
A significant investment in McIlroy, along with each-way bets on a trio of big-priced outsiders, is the recommended course of action. Haydn Porteous was thrilled to make the cut at Abu Dhabi last week in his third attempt and the power-packed South African youngster can build on those four rounds this week at a layout he much prefers.
Porteous finished eighth on his Desert Classic debut in 2016, an excellent 14 under par for the final three days, only a shot a round worse than champion Willett from Friday through Sunday.
A missed cut last year takes nothing away from the fact Porteous loves the Emirates – he was struggling to make a cut anywhere 12 months ago as he attempted swing changes which have since been aborted. His form figures prior to the last Classic were MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-65-MC-72-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC, yet he failed to make the Emirates weekend by just a shot.
This time, Porteous is much more confident, a second European Tour title coming in September at the Czech Masters, and he ended last season with 21st place in the DP World Tour Championship, a solid debut in the other Dubai event.
Thorbjorn Olesen 66-1
Gavin Green 150-1
Thorbjorn Olesen was full of rust in his opening tournament of the year, but he got four rounds under his belt in Abu Dhabi, and the dashing Dane should step up a gear in Dubai. Olesen adores the Gulf and has contended numerous times in the European Tour events there, including third place in the 2013 Desert Classic and fifth in 2014.
The four-time Tour champ, who won the GolfSixes with Lucas Bjerregaard last year, is extremely well suited to the Emirates. Inaccurate driving proved costly last week, but Thunderbear has more margin for error in Dubai.
Gavin Green, the Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, is also worth an interest in his third Desert Classic start. Green tied for 32nd place last year to indicate he is getting to grips with the Emirates, a course which suits his style of play, then he finished runner-up three times on the Asian Tour before making his breakthrough in the Taiwan Masters in October.
The 24-year-old Malaysian, who enjoyed a successful Stateside college career, is rapidly growing in self-belief and warmed up nicely with eighth place in Singapore last week.
Others to note
The Belgian bomber made a poor start when sharing the lead in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, then doubled the 11th after a slightly pulled approach into sand. Fifth place was decent, though, and the Ryder Cup star is impossible to rule out.
The Zimbabwe-born American is full of potential. Turned pro at the end of last year. Has played in eight pro events, making seven cuts, and was only a shot outside the cut-line in the other. Qualified for the Open last week with sixth place in Singapore. A dangerous Dubai debutant at 200-1.
The stylish Belgian youngster finished ninth in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, playing alongside Fleetwood, and should become a European Tour champion before long.
The South African powerhouse played well for much of Abu Dhabi, but an eight at the par-three 12th in round two was a killer blow. Should get among the birdies on his Emirates debut.
The Q-School winner likes low-scoring tracks where his effortless power is a significant weapon, so he could take an immediate shine to the Emirates.
The Sheffield boy seems to spend every week on the leaderboard these days and is clearly good enough to triumph at a track where he was fifth last year.
6pts 5-1 Betfred
1pt each-way 250-1 BoyleSports, Sky Bet
1pt each-way 66-1 BoyleSports, Hills, Sky Bet
0.5pt each-way 150-1 Betfred, Coral, Paddy Power
Course Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Prize money €2.45m (€408,597 to the winner)
Length 7,328 yards
Course records – 72 holes 266 Thomas Bjorn (2001), Stephen Gallacher (2013), Rory McIlroy (2015) 18 holes 61 Ernie Els (1994)
Course winners taking part Ernie Els (three times), Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy (twice), Miguel Angel Jimenez, Alvaro Quiros, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Stephen Gallacher (twice), Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia
When to bet By 3.10am Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 4am Thursday
Time difference Dubai is four hours ahead of the UK and Ireland
Last week – Abu Dhabi Championship 1 T Fleetwood (22-1), 2 R Fisher (55-1), T3 R McIlroy (17-2), M Fitzpatrick (40-1), T5 T Pieters (45-1), C Paisley (150-1)
Course overview Emirates Golf Club has been used for the Desert Classic since 1989 apart from a two-year switch to Dubai Creek from 1999 to 2000. A score of just 11 under par was enough to reach at least a play-off in the tricky conditions of 2010 and 2011, but traditionally the Emirates has been a low-scoring track where something approaching or passing 20 under par has been required for victory. The back nine is the scoring half, with three par-fives (the tenth, 13th and 18th) and two relatively short par-threes (11th and 15th). Tiger Woods came home in 31 shots (six under par) when winning in 2008 with a late birdie blitz. Trees and shrubs are waiting to punish the seriously wayward, and water comes into play on ten holes, but fairly straightforward, flat greens mean the competitors can relax once they have got putter in hand. The course was slightly toughened up in 2016, with most of the bunkers deepened, but 19 under par has still been the winning score the last two years. State-of-the-art floodlighting has been built around the ninth and 18th greens since last year, which will help get late rounds finished
Story of last year Sergio Garcia enjoyed a wire-to-wire victory, repelling Henrik Stenson all week, the Spaniard sealing a three-shot success with a bogey-free final round
Weather forecast Sunny with light breezes. As was the case at Abu Dhabi last week, wind speed should peak on Sunday
Type of player suited to challenge The Emirates has traditionally been a big-hitters' track, with a hot putter required to reach the typically low winning total, and an excellent weather forecast suggests another birdie-fest is imminent. Punters should focus on those who thrive in desert events, particularly this one and the DP World Tour Championship
Key attribute Power
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