In many senses the progression of the Desert Classic is like the modern history of the European Tour in microcosm. When the event was launched in 1989 the schedule started in late February and ended in late October, and, outside of the majors, Dubai was the only stop beyond continental Europe. Today the season is more or less non-stop with the Middle East an integral part of a worldwide itinerary. Where the Tour once went to suburban English towns, now it ventures to Shanghai, Delhi and Abu Dhabi.
In 1989 the Emirates GC stood more or less alone in the sand. Today it is surrounded by skyscrapers and vast hotels. The tournament has developed alongside the city of Dubai and the European Tour, and is now unquestionably one of the world’s most prestigious titles. Golf365 teams up with Betsafe to give you an overview ahead of the tournament including all the favourites for the Desert Classic.
The Winner’s Profile
The tournament briefly relocated to the Dubai Creek GC (in 1999-2000), but otherwise it has always been hosted by the Emirates GC and world-class players have always thrived there. Names on the trophy include Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett. With the exception of Monty they are all major championship winners.
That said, it’s not unheard of for the winner to emerge from leftfield. Richard Green was only 15 events into his European Tour career when he topped Greg Norman in extra holes back in 1997, Robert Jan Derksen held off Ernie Els in 2003, and Stephen Gallacher won back-to-back more recently in 2013-14.
Generally speaking, however, the winner is from the very top grade or just below. The course demands high quality from tee to green (each of the last ten winners ranked top 25 for Greens in Regulation, eight of them were top 15) and the approach shots must set up excellent birdie opportunities for a hot putter (those ten also ranked top 25 for Putting Average, nine of them top 15).
The Majlis Course at Emirates GC
Built in 1988 and designed by Karl Litton the Majlis was the first grass course in the United Arab Emirates. Visually it makes for an arresting sight, with the desert waste areas offering colourful contrast to the verdant fairways, all framed by the distant cityscape. The closing holes offer plenty of opportunity for a late charge. The 17th is a short par-four of 359 yards which can be attacked from the tee, but the angled green punishes a wayward shot, whilst the dogleg 18th is a par-five of 564 yards where it is common to see aggressive approaches over water on the final day. In 1996 Colin Montgomerie pulled off one of the greatest shots of his career to clinch victory over Miguel Angel Jimenez, hitting driver off the deck to reach the green.
Dubai Desert Classic Favourites
Only once in his last 12 visits to this event has the Swede failed to finish in the top 30 – and on six of those times he was in the top eight. What will bother him is that only once, back in 2007, did he lift the trophy.
In both of the last two years he’s ranked first for Ball-Striking so you’d think he just needs a good week on the greens for the win. It would obviously help, but even when in 2007 his putting stats were unremarkable. What has been a major problem is his Scrambling: he’s ranked worse than 66th in the field in each of the last four years.
The Spaniard has a peculiar record at the Emirates GC. He missed the cut on his first appearance, and also on his most recent start there in 2015.
In between times he recorded four top 20 finishes without once cracking the top ten. One problem is that he’s managed just one sub-70 round in eight attempts at the weekend.
Amazingly has won only once in the last six years on the European Tour, but that was in the desert (2014 Qatar Masters).
When he won this title in 2012, defeating the challenges of Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, it would have been hard to believe that he would spend the next five years without another victory.
Not that he has been without success. He has missed just one cut in the last 16 months, finished third in the WGC World Match Play and made a strong Ryder Cup debut. Second here last year, sixth last week in Qatar, another good week beckons, but can he get the win.
Like Cabrera-Bello, Wiesberger churns out the good results week after week. So much so, in fact, that his T37 last week in Qatar rates as something of a failure given that his previous seven regular European Tour starts has all reaped top seven finishes.
He can also boast strong course form, finished T16 or better in each of the last three renewals with a best of fourth in 2015. He topped the Ball-Striking stats in 2014 and had his best week on the greens here 12 months ago.
A year ago the Englishman headed to Dubai knowing he’d finished T13 two years running and always struggled on the greens.
By the end of the week he’d sussed out the putting surfaces and, to prove it, drained a 15-foot putt on the 72nd hole to claim victory, taking down a quality leaderboard that included McIlroy, Stenson, Cabrera-Bello and Sullivan. Weeks later he’d become the Masters champion, but it’s been a bit of a slog since with just two top ten finishes in his last 15 starts.
There are three solid reasons to like the Englishman’s chances this week. One: he smashed a final round 66 last year to finish eighth.
Two: he was second last time he teed it up in the U.A.E., at the DP World Tour Championship. Three: he led going into the final round on his last start, two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi.
One of the rising stars of English golf and in the form of his life.
The Korean 21-year-old claimed back-to-back victories in Morocco and Mauritius last year, before threatening to win bigger titles in France and South Africa. He’s opened the 2017 in scintillating style, impressing in Abu Dhabi before winning last week’s Qatar Masters.
It’s his first appearance in the event, but in his previous visit to Dubai he was the hottest putter in the field at the DP World Tour Championship, closing with rounds of 65 and 66 for T17.
About Matt Cooper
Matt Cooper is a contributor for Golf365, which has all the latest from tour events, plus news, features and course reviews.