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Dubai Desert Classic preview


The Dubai Desert Classic is the final instalment in this “Middle East Swing” and once again some of the top names have made the trip to the ever growing Dubai.

Tiger Woods fills the boots of Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner this week as the feature American representative in the field this week.

Woods a two-time winner here, will be looking to bounce back from his disappointing performance at Torrey Pines last week, and become the 2nd three-time winner of this event. The first and only three-time winner of the Dubai Desert Classic? Ernie Els.

Els has a tremendous record in the desert, and although he hasn’t played here since 2009, when he missed the cut for the first time, he is keen to add to his success.

In a post on both his personal and PGA Tour websites, he has talked of his delight, returning to this course this week, and hopes to add to his previous titles. He also mentions the course suiting his eye, and how he has such fond memories in the past.

He included his 2002 win here, and how happy he was being able to carry his form from this event, into the Open Championship that year, when winning at Muirifield.

You can see his full account here. http://www.ernieels.com/golf/diary/index.html

Other than Woods and Els, you have both Rory Mcilroy and Henrik Stenson in the field once again, who too are both former winners at this very event. Mcilroy (7/2), Woods (6/1) and Stenson (11/1) unsurprisingly head the market, and whilst I would not rule any of the three out (that would be silly) I am once again happy to oppose them.

Emirates GC is a 7,316 yard, par 72 and it has been known to provide a tough, but fair test. The fairways in general are fairly generous, and the with large greens to aim for, you will be at a huge disadvantage should you miss them. Past champion, Ernie Els commented on how true the greens are, and they also run firm. Water comes into play on 10 of the 18 holes, and this will no doubt effect the scoring this week. All par 5s provide players with an eagle chance, so if you’re a good par-5 scorer, this should be a course you can succeed at. Greens in Regulation will be key this week, and any players you feel take advantage of par 5s could well be in with a shout.

Thanks to the heavy favourites, there is some great value in the betting this week, and I hope to, as always try and take advantage of this.

Here are my selections for the 2014 Dubai Desert Classic.

Thomas Bjorn 40/1 (Ladbrokes & WilliamHill) 1pt e/w: At 40/1 Thomas Bjorn is almost impossible to ignore for me at the moment. The Dane has been in great form, and currently leads the Race to Dubai rankings early in this young season.

He has already won in the 2014 season, and every time he competes he looks like he can do it again. He has been around 20/1 for a long period, and I was delighted to see him at double the odds this week.

Whilst in recent years this isn’t one of his best courses, three top-10s here in the past suggest he can navigate it when playing well, which he is. He is above average in terms of Greens in Regulation, and he plots his way around golf courses, with great course management, and that could be vital when trying to take advantage of the par-5s.

To better his top-10s here, Bjorn did win the event, albeit back in 2001, but he is in the type of form at the  moment that could see him repeat that success, and I cannot find any reasons why he should be a rank outsider this time around.

Although he missed his first cut since August, last week at the Qatar Masters, Bjorn has still managed form figures of mc-10-10-1-2 in his last five events, and that is something to take notice of.

At 40/1 I’m more than happy to see if he can find some form here at the Emirates GC once again, and continue a great start to 2014.

Stephen Gallacher 45/1 (Bet365, Betfred, Totesport) 1pt e/w: Stephen Gallacher won this event 12 months ago, and has since played some very good golf, something I hope he can carry over to the defence of his title this week.

Apart from his win here last year, Gallacher posted another five top-10s, two of which were also top-5 finishes. He finished T9 at the European Masters, T8 at the Open De France, and T6 at the Ballantine’s Championship, all very good finishes. To further impress he finished T2 at the Johnnie Walker Championship, losing out in a play-off to Tommy Fleetwood and also T3 at the Portugal Masters.

All in all, 2013 was a very strong year for Gallacher, and in a Ryder Cup year, at Gleneagles, this Scotsman will certainly be looking to impress captain, Paul McGinley. He has started this season in a very solid fashion, finishing in the top-30 in all three events, including a T8 finish in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.

He finished last season ranked 23rd in Greens in Regulation, something that should definitely help his cause here this week, and if he can get the putter to co-operate, something he has struggled with in the past, he could be a strong contender once again.

His course form over the past three years is a absolutely superb, finishing 1-2-10, and I hope he can continue that here this time around. He went a long time between wins, his win last year being in his first since 2004, but last year to me suggests he could well win certainly a few more times on Tour, and why not at a course he clearly loves.

At 45/1 he seemed good enough value this week, and hopefully he can keep up his solid play, and grab his second Dubai Desert Classic trophy in as many years.

Ernie Els 50/1 (General) 1pt e/w: As aforementioned, Els has won three times at this course, and I am hoping his fond memories of this event will serve him well this week.

Although “Big Easy” hasn’t played regularly in recent weeks, he’s still shown some good signs when he has done, and returning to a course such as this, should give him a huge confidence boost.

You can make your own mind up about his current form, but his course form here is undeniable. He did miss his cut last time he played here in 2009, but prior to that he finished, 3-2-2-2-1-3-2-1 dating back to 2002.

To not finish outside the top-3 in eight attempts in a row takes some doing, and I am happy to forgive him the missed cut last time out. He is never going to be a complete stranger to Dubai as he has his own golf course out there, which he was practising at, at the start of the week.

He says he feels good about how he has played with the shorter, standard sized putter recently, especially in practice rounds and put in back in play last weekend in Qatar. Els used this putter en-route to a course-record 61 at his home course in South Africa in December. In an interview with the Golf Channel he had this to say “The feel was so good and with this golf ball being softer, the combination feels nice,” He also said he has looked back at tape of his play in the 1990’s, when he was playing really well, and felt he was getting back to the same rhythm, which to me is a great sign.

If he was a lot shorter this week, like I expected him to be, I may of left him out due to his inconsistent play in recent weeks, and his five year absence from this event, but at 50/1 he has to be a bet for me.

Gregory Bourdy 150/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Gregory Bourdy has not played for ten weeks, but that is literally the only reason I can think of, for him being a three-figure price.

Bourdy, like fellow countryman Julian Quesne, Raphael Jacquelin and Victor Dubuisson picked up a win last season, and French golf certainly seems to be booming at the moment. As well as these four winning, both Adrien Saddier and Romain Wattel have featured in recent weeks, so it certainly looks like France as a nation is putting it’s stamp on European golf.

Bourdy himself finished off 2013 in style, winning at the Wales Open, back in September, followed by a string of steady performances. He did not miss a cut after his missed cut at the U.S Open, and missed just six all season, four coming before the end of March.

He fits the bill here in terms of Greens in Regulation, ranking 22nd in said category in the 2013 season, and unless he’s been enjoying himself far too much over the festive period, rather than working on his game, I can see his good form continuing.

In his last two wins, the Wales Open and the Hong Kong Open he has held off both Peter Uihlein and Rory Mcilroy, both extremely good players, and both by two shots. In fact, three of his four wins were by a 2 stroke margin, and the other coming in a play-off, suggesting to me he’s quite a collective, resilient character in contention.

He has played here at the Emirates GC seven times, and has missed just two cuts, whilst posting very respectable finishes of 16th in 2012 and 8th in 2010. Encouraging signs for a player, that has shown some great form in the not too distant past, and is also now a four-time European Tour winner.

At 150/1 I thought he was well overpriced, and think it may be an over-exaggeration to his long break, one that he earned after a very decent 2013 season.

Points staked on the European Tour this week: 8

Profit/Loss for 2014: + 100.875

It was another nearly week last week,  as George Coetzee got off to a fast start in Qatar, but an average weekend left him behind, and after finding water on his 72nd hole, he dropped into a share of 5th. I am hoping our fortunes will reverse this week, and feel really good about these four players, all of which I feel are a generous price. Check back late tonight/early tomorrow for my preview of this week’s PGA Tour event, the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

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