DP World Tour Championship Preview & Tips: Hatton heads up four selections in Dubai
The European Tour season comes to an end this week, with a star-studded field in Dubai for the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Estates’ Earth Course. Not only will we find out the winner of this event but also the Race to Dubai, which is currently headed by two Americans, in the shape of Collin Morikawa and Billy Horschel.
Played on the same estate as last week’s Dubai Championship, in which Denmark’s JB Hansen defied some nervy play down the stretch to run out a 50/1 winner for us. This week’s test will be more difficult, but in some ways is similar to its sister course.
Also designed by Greg Norman, the Earth Course is a par 72 measuring a long 7675 yards. Like the fire course, fairways are wide, greens big and undulating, with birdies very much on the agenda. Though this is where the similarities end.
There is much more danger around this course than last week’s venue. It’s a true risk reward course. Yes, the fairways are wide and the greens huge but there is trouble lurking everywhere. It is tree-lined for starters, with some thicker rough, meaning the most wayward of tee-shots should find more trouble than last week.
Added to that are waste areas where lies can be tricky, an abundance of strategically placed, deep bunkers and water in-play on a number of holes. Most notably on the par 3 17th, which is played into an island green and the final hole, a brilliant par 5 that has a creek running right up the centre, cutting the fairway in half, and sitting right aside the 18th green.
DP World Tour Championship Tips
You can and will have to make a bunch of birdies here. Of the 12 times the course has hosted the finale, four times the winning score has been in the -20s, only dipping under -18 on three occasions. However, to make these birdies and keep the bogeys off the scorecard, your ball-striking has to be on point. Driving and approach play proving to be the most key ingredients to success over the last since the course debuted on tour, though it obviously does help if you can get the putter rolling too.
A few events standout as excellent comps to the DPWTC. The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and the Abu Dhabi Championship, played at Abu Dhabi Golf Club are the main ones. Together with the Dubai Desert Classic, which should also prove a good guide. Danny Willett, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton & Victor Perez amongst a number of names that have cross-over form between those courses and here.
Conditions are forecast to be dry and like last week, benign conditions in the morning are likely to be followed by a strong breeze every afternoon throughout the event. Bringing further problems around this more problematic setup.
Despite Jon Rahm pulling out of the event last week, we still have a strong field. World #2, Collin Morikawa returns after finishing 10th on debut. Whilst #8 Rory Mcilroy, fresh off a win in the CJ Cup, returns after missing last year. The field also boasting names like Abraham Ancer, Patrick Reed and 2021 BMW PGA Champion Billy Horschel.
The market is headed by Rory and Morikawa at single figures. They’re followed by last year’s champion, Matt Fitzpatrick, along with Abraham Ancer, Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood in that order, but I’m passing them all over for a player I feel is more likely to win here and possesses wins at both the main correlating courses, Tyrrell Hatton.
The year started off in fine fashion for Hatton, as he won the season opening Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour. Though not quite as emphatic as his performances last year, he’s still played strong golf since, picking up a couple of runner-up finishes. The most recent of these in the Dunhill Links four starts ago.
His ball-striking has been excellent for most of the year, ranking 13th in approach and 29th off-the-tee on the PGA Tour for the 2020/21 season. The reason he’s not quite managed the type of performances that he did in 2020 has been due to a few off months with the putter but he’s arrested that stat in recent events. Ranking 14th three starts ago in the CJ Cup when finishing 18th and though he missed the cut last week in Houston, he continued to put up positive strokes gained numbers with the flat stick. That performance down to an uncharacteristically poor week with the long game, particularly in approach.
He’s played here every year since 2014, putting up an impressive sequence of results that reads: 6-13-2-8-22-46-8. Further evidence for his suitability is on display with that victory in Abu Dhabi, added to him picking up the 2020 BMW PGA Championship in impressive fashion.
Despite not producing the same level of golf as last year, Hatton has played well and has shown form in recent starts. The quality of his ball-striking, coupled with the putter behaving better in recent starts makes him standout amongst some players priced shorter than him, and with the excellent winning mentality he possesses, now a seven-time winner, including a PGA Tour title, can go close this week.
South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout comes next and can take advantage of a brilliant run of form with his approach play to add to an already strong record at the Earth Course.
That record has seen him play here both the last two years, recording finishes of 12th and 14th. Well suited to the course because of that quality with the irons, that has seen him put up positive strokes gained numbers in 7 out of his last 8 starts. He’s equally excellent with the putter, gaining strokes on the greens in 11 of his last 12 events in which strokes gained stats have been recorded.
Since his breakthrough win at Valderrama in 2019, Bezuidenhout has spent most of his time between the two prominent tours. Putting up strong performances whenever he does come back to play in a European Tour event.
This was once again on show the last time we saw him on the tour when he finished 5th at the BMW PGA Championship in September. One of the two main correlating courses. Also possessing a 3rd place finish there in 2019 and has form in Abu Dhabi too, finishing 12th this year. A 3rd place finish in the Dubai Desert Classic last year should also do his chances no harm.
With two wins in the co-sanctioned events in South Africa at the end of 2020, Bezuidenhout is now a three-time winner on tour. A missed cut in Houston last week is forgiven due to the difficulties that week posed and with the irons and putter looking in a good place, combined with his strong record here and in correlating events, he can pick up the biggest victory of his career to date.
Danny Willett makes it 3/3 selections so far that missed the cut in Houston last week. The reason I’m not put off by this is because of the difficulty that test posed, from conditions to course setup. It also means those players mentioned will have had two days extra to get themselves over to Dubai and prepare.
Willett is a former winner here, picking up the title in 2018 after two and half years out in the cold after his 2016 Masters success. He once again showed his aptitude for picking up trophies a few weeks ago, winning the Dunhill Links in fine fashion and also possesses a victory at Wentworth amongst a raft of other top performances, which includes being a winner of the Dubai Desert Classic.
He’s continued to play solid golf since winning in Scotland. Missed cuts in Bermuda and Houston preceded by finishes in the 20s. Both those missed cuts in events that had weather problems.
Showing form in all areas of his game over recent weeks, Willett can add another title to his impressive cabinet this week and pick up his 2nd title at the Earth Course.
The last selection of the week is big hitting, beast of a ball-striker, Nicolai Hojgaard. Though he’s making his debut at the course, he has the right game to handle the test and now a winner himself, following in twin brother Rasmus’ footsteps, is showing he’s every bit as talented.
He capitalised on what had been a solid year up until that point, when he won the Italian Open at the beginning of September. There’s been no sign of a hangover or basking in the glory of his success, as he’s continued to play well in subsequent events, with three top 20s in his last five starts. The most recent of them coming two weeks ago, when he finished runner-up in the Portugal Masters.
His quality is all in the long game, ranking 20th in approach and 26th off-the-tee. Hitting it a long way too, ranking 4th in driving distance. His putting is his Achilles heel but showed in Italy that he only needs to put adequately if his long game is on top form. Though he did putt well last time out in Portugal, ranking 14th on the greens.
It’s a big ask to go and win here with the quality operators at the top but he’s one of the finest talents we have to offer on this side of the pond. Now a winner, with a game that matches well to this large, open golf course, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see him go well on debut.