Matt Cooper

Across the Pond

print article archives RSS

DP World Tour Preview

Monday, November 13, 2017


 
It's been quite a year. After 48 tournaments, 26 countries, eight Rolex Series events, five continents, two six-hole events and one disastrous website redesign, the bell is ringing for the final lap of the European Tour's 2017 Race to Dubai.
 
Tommy Fleetwood, who leads the rankings, is tired yet obviously thrilled by a remarkable year that has witnessed victories in far-off lands, the birth of a son, and a rapturous Southport home-coming. Were he to be crowned No. 1 for 2017 it would complete a very princely grand slam.
 
He will be chased to the line by the two golfers who contested the Masters play-off and who are currently enjoying impeccable form. Third placed Sergio Garcia was a winner on home soil last time out; Justin Rose betters that having lifted the prize in both China and Turkey before taking a week off.
 
"It's pretty special," Fleetwood said of his position. "It's not a burden. I don't feel stressed about it. I don't feel anxious. I just think it's great that I've got the chance to win it and a good chance too."
 
His year, if not his season, began with a win in the U.A.E. (at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship). Will it end with one too?
 
 
Race to Dubai standings
 
1st Tommy Fleetwood 4,235,987
2nd Justin Rose 3,979,250
3rd Sergio Garcia 3,184,582
4th Jon Rahm 2,898,457
5th Tyrrell Hatton 2,711,524
 
 
The course
 
This tournament has always been at home on the Greg Norman-designed Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. A par 72 which packs a punch at 7,675 yards, it has always produced a barrage of low-scoring. Seven of eight winners were 16-under or better (four of them well into the 20s). There is plenty of room from the tees and on the large green complexes too. The latter feature Tifeagle Bermuda grass and sweeping run-offs. Five holes bring water into play including the island green at 17.
 
 
Past winners, winning scores and stats
 
2016 Matthew Fitzpatrick -17  (DD: 16, DA: 2, GIR: 21, Scr: 5, PA: 2, AA: 1)
2015 Rory McIlroy -21 (DD: 1, DA: 37, GIR: 4, Scr: 10, PA: 4, AA: 2)
2014 Henrik Stenson -16 (DD: 2, DA: 2, GIR: 4, Scr: 41, PA: 16, AA: 2)
2013 Henrik Stenson -25 (DD: 7, DA: 1, GIR: 1, Scr: 2, PA: 8, AA: 1)
2012 Rory McIlroy -23 (DD: 2, DA: 22, GIR: 47, Scr: 19, PA: 1, AA: 3)
2011 Alvaro Quiros -19 (DD: 1, DA: 55, GIR: 4, Scr: 47, PA: 7, AA: 12)
2010 Robert Karlsson -14 (DD: 5, DA: 20, GIR: 12, Scr: 54, PA: 1, AA: 5)
2009 Lee Westwood -23 (DD: 8, DA: 7, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 5, AA: 1)
 
Notes: Although Fitzpatrick didn't buck the trend of quality winners, he was the shortest-hitting winner so far and he didn't rank particularly high for Greens in Regulation either. He was, however, sharp on the greens and his All-Round strength shone as he became the seventh of eight winners to rank top five in that category (six were top three). Fitzpatrick was the first winner who hadn't tasted victory on the Desert Swing prior to claiming this title (or, in Westwood's case, lost a play-off and racked up plenty of top five finishes). 
 
 
Weather
 
Nothing out of the Dubai ordinary to report: temperatures in the high 80s, perhaps a bit of cloud on Thursday and Friday, a 4% chance of rain on Saturday and wind that will be cooling rather than have any affect on play (12mph possible all four days).
 
 
The Leading Contenders (listed in Race to Dubai order with ranking)
 
A tricky conundrum. The fact he leads the rankings could be a plus (confidence) yet also a minus (distraction, weight of pressure). Past winners of this event have excelled on that season's Desert Swing and Fleetwood can count that as another positive after his Abu Dhabi win. Last year's tournament stats suggests he got to grips with the challenge, topping the Greens in Regulation rankings on his way to a first top ten at his fourth attempt. The worries include the hoopla off-the-course, fatigue (he's been logging up the air miles the last three weeks, not that he'll need them these days) and putting: He's required 32 putts per round during the last two years on this course.
 
One of the nicest guys in the sport and yet what was notable about his victories in the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open was their predatory nature, as if Rose remembered he has thorns as he hunted down the leaders. He made up eight shots during the final round in China, and was nine back after 36 holes in Turkey; not even needing play-offs to complete the kill. A victory this week would not only land a hat-trick, but could do to Tommy Fleetwood in the rankings what he did to Dustin Johnson in Shanghai and Kiradech Aphibarnrat in Antalya. Twice second in this event (in 2012 and 2014), he was also in contention last year before a 78 on Saturday (he shot 66 either side of that).
 
Last year Garcia carded 68-67 to hit the weekend in a tie for first, the strongest position he'd built through six visits to the tournament, but he drifted backwards at the weekend. He now has half a dozen finishes of T21 or better, but is still seeking a first top six finish. He's had good putting stats, so can clearly deal with the greens. Has to come into the reckoning with his victory in the Dubai Desert Classic and if he completed a Seasonal Desert Double this week he'd be the fourth man to do so at this event.
 
No Desert Swing form to refer to and perhaps the closest challenge he has faced on the PGA Tour was the Waste Management Open at TPC Scottsdale where he finished T16. Instinct will prompt many to favor his chances: the course is wide and it is long, surely a great fit? Better than Valderrama (where he missed the cut) and even Sheshan International (T36). Against that those results might also be a consequence of fatigue at the end of his first full year as a touring professional.
 
The Englishman always looked a neat fit for this course on his first two visits, recording T6 and T13 in 2014 and 2015. He confirmed that notion with a stunning effort last year, one in which he led throughout most of the back nine on Sunday and completed a sensational bunker recovery when he purposefully "laid up" in the sand and then holed out to complete the scramble. Alas there was a late slip and he was runner-up to Matt Fitzpatrick. It's churlish to suggest he's lost a bit of form, but after the back-to-back wins he has marked three top 20 finishes without ever genuinely contending - in itself, of course, a sign of how well he is playing. T3 in the Dubai Desert Classic in January.
 
Played his heart out to finish second to Hatton in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open, and has suffered a hangover since, marking just T58 in the WGC-HSBC Champions (a favorite course) and T43 in last week's Nedbank Golf Challenge. Moreover he failed to break 70 in those eight rounds. Back in 2010 he carded a second round 64 to tie the halfway lead in this event, but that is the high point in his seven appearances, ending the week T13. On four occasions he didn't finish inside the top 40.
 
The Spaniard loves the UAE so much he moved there and in a recent edition of Golf Digest was arguing for more tournaments to be hosted by the region, praising the course conditioning in particular. He won the Dubai Desert Classic in 2012 and was second in 2016. He's also gone low on this week's course, but is also susceptible to big numbers too. In 2014 a 64 and a 65 were bookended by 73 and 75 (T9), in 2015 he opened with a 76 and closed with a 66 (T22), then last year a Saturday 63 got him two back of the lead before he fell back with a Sunday 75 (T23). T5 in the HSBC Champions, T42 last week in South Africa.
 
In 2009, when this tournament made its bow, Noren was an impressive T6, albeit ten strokes back of the winner Lee Westwood (bear in mind he was nine back of Fitzpatrick last year and T23). In between times he always finished in the top 40, but never better than T37 - not a great recommendation. He can play in the desert, but has a stronger record in Qatar and Bahrain than the U.A.E. although he was second in the 2015 Dubai Desert Classic, one of just two top tens in 23 starts in the country. Has progressive form: MC-T38-T31-T12.
 
Nothing wrong with the atet of his game, as he proved when slicing through the field after an errant front nine in round two last week. His victory in "Africa's major" (the Nedbank Golf Challenge) was no doubt a mental, physical and emotional effort so worth carefully considering if he can spin off it, or understandably slacken a little. The flipside is that he's a back-to-back winner of the Qatar Masters (2015-16) and boasts three top ten finishes at the tournament in five visits. 
 
The Italian has been an ever-present in this tournament since it started in 2009. In six of those eight visits he has finished T16 or better. He finished T6 in both 2010 and 2011, and was T4 in both of the last two years. Down the years he has ranked top two for Driving Accuracy, Ball-Striking, Scrambling and Total Putting. He stroked a wonderful 7-under-par 65 last Saturday in the Nedbank Golf Challenge. What's not to like? Unfortunately he made triple-bogey 6 at the 16th hole in Sunday's final round, missing short putts that had even the TV cameras holding the lens cap to the lens. That said, there's a touch of Bernhard Langer about Molinari - he's the type to respond to adversity with another top ten.

continue story »
12

Email :Matt Cooper



Highest Searched Golfers over the last 7 days



Video Center

  •  
    Waivers: Perine a must-add

    Waivers: Perine a must-add
  •  
    Dose: Wilson breaks loose

    Dose: Wilson breaks loose
  •  
    Dose: Allen explodes vs. Bills

    Dose: Allen explodes vs. Bills
  •  
    Dose: Brown lights up Titans

    Dose: Brown lights up Titans
  •  
    Silva: Week 11 Matchups

    Silva: Week 11 Matchups
  •  
    Dose: Bills to Start Peterman

    Dose: Bills to Start Peterman
  •  
    Matchups: Burkhead vs. Raiders

    Matchups: Burkhead vs. Raiders
  •  
    Waivers: Davis

    Waivers: Davis' Time to Shine