Dubai betting preview
Dave Tindall's in-depth preview and best bets for the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club.
By Dave Tindall
Last Updated: 29/01/13 12:05pm
The final leg of the Desert Swing takes us back to the UAE for the Dubai Desert Classic.
This was the first European Tour event to be staged in the Middle East and, apart from the 1999 and 2000 editions, which were held at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, it has always been played on the "Majlis" course at the Emirates Golf Club.
England's Mark James was the winner of the inaugural tournament in 1989 and since then the impressive roll-call of champions features Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els (three times), Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods (twice) and Rory McIlroy.
The last three winners have been Spanish - Miguel Angel Jimenez, Alvaro Quiros and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
The tournament has a reputation for producing tight finishes with the last 10 runnings either being decided by a single shot or a play-off (2010 and 2006).
As usual, Sky Sports has live coverage of all four days, with the first broadcast at 0.600am (SS1 HD) on Thursday.
Dubai is four hours ahead of the UK.
The Majlis is the flagship course at the Emirates Golf Club. It was built in and around the dunes on the edge of the city of Dubai and features meandering fairways and seven fresh and saltwater lakes. The Majlis, the first grass course in the Middle East, takes its name from the Arabic word for 'meeting place'. Thomas Bjorn holes the course record having shot 22-under to win in 2001 while Rafa Cabrera-Bello triumphed last year with -18. The highest winning scores were in 1989, 2010 and 2011 when Mark James, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Alvaro Quiros all took victory with 11-under.
Temperatues are due to be in the high 70s on Thursday and Friday, dropping to 72/71 on the weekend. There's a very slight chance (10%) of rain on Saturday and Sunday but the main challenge will be from the wind. It's set to be modest on Thursday but rising to 15mph on Friday and Saturday and then 19mph for the final round.
Last year - Rafa Cabrera Bello
Lee Westwood started the final round two in front but it was Spain's Rafa Cabrera-Bello, world-ranked 119th at the time, who came through to triumph and win his second European Tour title with a closing bogey-free 68. Westwood had a chance to tie but failed to birdie the last after missing the green left and chipping 25 feet past. Scotland's Stephen Gallacher would also have forced a play-off with a birdie but he too could only make par after missing a 12-foot putt.
The leading contenders (and Sky Bet odds)
Sergio Garcia (9/2): After his very near-miss in Qatar followed up his strong play at the back end of 2012, it's no surprise that Sergio is all the rage to win here. But his course form isn't really that of a 9/2 shot. It's solid but, if making a case to oppose the Spaniard, you'd point to the fact that he's never finished in the top 10 here in four attempts. However, with his putter looking so much more reliable (he ranked fifth in the Putting Average stats in Qatar) Sergio really does look the one to beat this week.
2013 form: 2
Course form: 20-11-19-MC
UAE form: 9-12-11-20
World ranking: 14
Lee Westwood (17/2): Westwood was as furious as we've ever seen him after he faltered in the final round last year and messed up a greenside chip on 18 when he still had a great chance to force a play-off. That frustration had probably built up here down the years as it was the second time in threee years that the Englishman had finished runner-up. Overall he's only finished outside the top 25 three times in his last 12 vsits here so he'll feel it's a tournament he should have won by now. The nagging doubt is that Westwood is usually better after a run of tournaments and this is his seasonal debut.
2013 form: n/a
Course form: 20-MC-8-3
UAE form: 23-7-17-29
World ranking: 8
Henrik Stenson (14/1): The Swede won this event in 2007, leg two of a five-year run here in which he didn't finish outside of the top eight. He added another top 20 last year and that included a second round 64 so Stenson really does have the tools to thrive on the Majlis course. After confirming a return to form with a win in November's South African, he's started 2013 in steady form and gives the impression he's building towards something big. He was 23rd in Abu Dhabi, 16th in Qatar last week with rounds of 70-69-69-70 and this could be the week when he really bursts to life again.
2013 form: 16-23
Course form: 20-MC-8-3
UAE form: 23-7-20-MC
World ranking: 51
Thorbjorn Olesen (22/1): A rising force in the game, Olesen was a couple of inches from making a play-off in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago while he was fifth at halfway in Qatar last time out before slipping away to tied 22nd after a modest final round when his victory chances had gone. He has no course form to speak of after missing the cut on debut in 2011 and finishing in midfield last time but he closed with a 69 in 2012 so there's no reason at all why he can't produce another title challenge. The Dane is a class act and a win in a prestigious event like this seems just around the corner.
2013 form: 22-2
Course form: 42-MC
UAE form: 2-21-42-8
World ranking: 43
Paul Casey (25/1): After his return to form at the back end of 2012, Casey looked ready to start this season with a bang. It hasn't quite worked out that way though. He was 18th in the 30-man Volvo Golf Champions, 23rd in Abu Dhabi and 37th in Qatar. The stats suggest it's his putter which is holding him back so he needs to heat up on the greens. This is his first appearance in this event since 2010 but it's a course he's really done well on with top 20s in his last five visits, including a best of fourth in 2009. In fact, over the last four years he boasts the best stroke average here - even though his 69.38 is taken from just two events.
2013 form: 37-23-18
Course form: 11-4-20-16
UAE form: 23-16-18-6
World ranking: 124
Jamie Donaldson (25/1): Donaldson didn't play in Qatar so he's had some nice time to revel in and reflect on his superb victory in Abu Dhabi. It's obviously asking a lot for the Welshman to win another big event so soon but he has three top 16s to his name on this course and last year he closed with 67-69-68 over the final three rounds which meant he played the last 54 holes in three shots better than eventual winner Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Donaldson's next start after his Irish Open win last year resulted in a missed cut in the French Open although that was the very next week so, after some time off, hopefully he'll be better prepared to cope with the added expectation this time.
2013 form: 1-16
Course form: 6-48-MC-MC
UAE form: 1-9-16-30
World ranking: 30
Thongchai Jaidee (25/1): The Thai continues to play some of the most consistent golf of his career and so far on the Desert Swing he's finished tied ninth in both Abu Dhabi and Qatar. So can he kick on here? Well, he's got bags of experience on the course and in his 12 starts he has a third in 2010, a fifth in 2004 and a ninth in 2003. Before his pair of top nines he was third in the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa so he's definitely one of the form players right now and has to considered a genuine title threat. 9-9-3
Course form: 42-MC-3-47
UAE form: 9-7-42-MC
World ranking: 53
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (28/1): A first round 63 paved the way for the Spaniard's victory last year. "I'm very excited but I have no idea what to expect as it'll be the first time I've defended a tournament," he said at the start of this week so if he doesn't know, how do we?! He also dropped a hint as to why Spanish players do so well here. "I really enjoy the Desert Swing and feel very comfortable out here, wearing short sleeves all week in the sunshine and being surrounded by palm trees like I am at home in the Canary Islands." Ahead of his defence he's finished 23rd in Abu Dhabi and 22nd in Qatar so the signs are good that he can put in a bold performance.
2013 form: 22-23-9
Course form: 1-20-MC
UAE form: 23-40-1-48
World ranking: 56
Best of the rest
Anders Hansen (33/1): The Dane continually flies under the radar but he's got some excellent course form here. Hansen shot a second round 63 on the way to a fourth place in 2006 while he was runner-up two years ago. Two weeks ago he showed up well in Abu Dhabi, finishing ninth with a pair of closing 69s, so there are definite reasons to expect a strong showing.
Joel Sjoholm (125/1) The Chilean-born Swede, who is best mates with Thorbjorn Olesen, could be an interesting outsider here. He's got strong connections with Dubai and is sponsored by the local Atlantis The Palm Hotel (see his Twitter feed for pics). Very much in his comfort zone, Sjoholm shot middle rounds of 66 to finish ninth last year while in 2013 he's finished midfield in Abu Dhabi and improved to 34th last week after bookend 69s.
I really do think that Thorbjorn Olesen is the 'next big thing' and, after reluctantly swerving him the last two weeks, I'm going to pull the trigger here.
This isn't the highest quality field and at 22/1 he could prove a bit of a steal.
Olesen hasn't done much in this tournament yet but has played a lot of practice rounds here over the last couple of winters so knows this track better than it first appears.
Taking into account his final round here last year, his second place in Abu Dhabi and his 21st in November's DP World Tour Championship, eight of his last rounds in the UAE have been in the 60s so he's really starting to excel at desert golf.
It may also pay to have a little bet on the man he practices with in Dubai - Joel Sjoholm.
When ninth here last year, Sjoholm revealed: "Thorbjorn has beaten me so far. We were here (in Dubai) three weeks ago and we were playing against each other every day and we played 28 games and I lost 19."
After shooting a pair of 66s in this event last year Sjoholm has to be respected and he's worth a cheeky each-way dabble at 125s.
Thongchai Jaidee is one of the form horses of the field and is definitely worth an each-way play.
To add a little detail to his third place here two years ago, he was the halfway leader, at one point was actually three shots clear and later missed a short putt to make the play-off.
The Majlis suits his game and in the form he's in right now he has to have a great chance of cracking the top five again and hopefully going on to claim the win.
Finally, there is still room in the staking plan for another big name and it has to be Sergio.
He was just edged out last week but his once destructive putting has been tamed and he can become the fourth successive Spanish winner.
The price is skinny but can be beaten elsewhere.
1.5pts e.w. Thorbjorn Olesen at 22/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1.5pts e.w. Thongchai Jaidee at 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
0.5pts e.w. Joel Sjoholm at 125/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
3pts win Sergio Garcia at 9/2