For several years this was a benefit for the Tour’s best two players, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson. From 2012 to 2015 nobody else got their hands on the trophy as McIlroy’s two wins sandwiched the Swede’s back to back triumphs. While that made it a difficult betting heat with strong single figure favourites, at least it helped to build a profile of what it takes to win around the Earth Course. Elite ball strikers who hit lots of greens and often miss plenty of putts. Despite neither being consistently great putters, they usually putted well here which tells me that perhaps the greens aren’t overly challenging. Matt Fitzpatrick was the next winner in 2016 and while he is normally a decent putter he is another brilliant tee-to-green player. Jon Rahm continued this mould again last year as another world class iron player who isn’t always assured with the flat stick.
The Earth Course is one of the longer on Tour measuring nearly 7700 yards. It’s a Greg Norman design so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that as he was consistently one of the longest and straightest drivers on Tour before technology changed the landscape.
Eight of the last nine winners had already won that season heading in but with only the top 60 players qualifying that perhaps shouldn’t be a big surprise.
Two of the last seven winners were doing the Dubai double having won the Desert Classic earlier in the year.
Rory McIlroy heads the market here at what would have been an unthinkable price (9/1) two years ago. That is gathering quite a bit of interest and there is no question it looks appealing on first look. However I can’t quite get his recent performances on suitable courses out of my mind. Yes he loves it here but he doesn’t appeal to me as a single bet. Those wishing to cover him could do worse than fire him in to some accumulators as the golfing world reaches silly season with multiple events.
A case could be made for the other 5 market principals but Rahm has only been seen once since an average Ryder Cup and he could only finish 22nd in the HSBC. Garcia is in brilliant form but at 10/1 I’d want to know that he wasn’t dwelling on last week’s loss. Fleetwood will probably play well but he just doesn’t win enough to side with at 11/1 at a course where he has never bettered 9th in 5 attempts. This all takes me down the market a little and to one of the most in form players in the European game.
Hao Tong Li will probably be quite popular this week despite not being the greatest of prices. Such is his level of current form and talent it would be no surprise to see him win a title this big. He has been knocking on the door heavily over the last month (5-2-11-9-5) and he has already shown his fondness of playing in Dubai when beating McIlroy head to head to win the Dubai Desert Classic. His event form is improving having finished 30th on his debut and then 13th last year. The Earth course should suit him perfectly with a bit of room off the tee for the sometimes erratic but powerful driver. His iron play has been excellent recently and that is usually what separates the field here. Li is so good that when he is putting well he should contend every week at this level and that explains the short odds as the bookmakers know what he is all about. His touch on and around the greens has been superb lately as he has been seen holing out lots of chips in recent weeks. On his last two starts he has ranked 2nd in the all-round ranking confirming just how well every part of his game is operating. With question marks about several around him in the market I see no reason why he can’t lift this title to cap off a career year for one of the most promising youngsters in the game.
Henrik Stenson hasn’t been seen since the Ryder Cup so there are both health and rust issues regarding his game. But they are more than factored into his price and to be frank that’s what has drawn me to the Swede this week. The fact that we can back him here at 25/1 is too good an opportunity to pass up for me. It’s not like he has played poorly this year either he has just suffered heavily from his elbow injury. He still ranked 1st on the PGA Tour in GIR, 4th in strokes gained: approaches and 8th in strokes gained: tee to green so his tee-to-green game has been as superb as ever when he has played. He laughed off those injury concerns at the Ryder Cup winning all 3 of his matches and he has had minor surgery since then which will hopefully have sorted the problem out. Lack of competitive golf is certainly a worry especially as he has to find his swing again after the surgery but this is one of his favourite courses and he will surely have been preparing to give it his best shot this week. I’d be annoyed at myself to miss out at this price so I have to have a small bet on him.
Dean Burmester looks over priced in all the markets here this week given his course and current form. He was 11th last week where his whole game was in great shape bar his normally reliable putter. The powerful South African came 4th here last year on his debut and while I’d be surprised to see him come out on top this week I think he has a good chance of landing some place bets so I’ll play him in both the top 10 and top 20 markets.
Hao Tong Li – 2pts ew @ 20/1 (1/5 odds 5 places Betfair Sportsbook)
Henrik Stenson – 1pt ew @ 25/1 (1/4 odds 5 places)
Dean Burmester – 1pt Top 10 @ 9/1 and 1.5pts Top 20 @ 7/2
2018 European Tour record
Points advised = 149
Points returned = 137.7